Keys to Responding To Criticism

Never wrestle in the mud with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, and the pig likes it.

There’s a big difference between feedback and criticism.

Earlier this week I wrote about Criticism vs. Feedback. Since feedback can be useful and criticism can’t always be ignored, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine how we respond to feedback and criticism.

Criticism isn’t helpful, and generally I believe that the best response is to dismiss it. When you pay attention to something, you tend to get more of it. Since a critic’s primary motive is to find fault, blame, or complain, there’s not much reason to reward it.

I don’t acknowledge so-called “constructive criticism” because criticism, as I’m thinking about the term, is inherently destructive. However, sometimes it can’t be avoided. Bosses, colleagues, and other associates may be critical; it’s not always possible, and it’s certainly not easy, to ignore their opinions.


Feedback and criticism may sound similar, so it’s important to differentiate them. Even when identical words are employed, the heart beneath those words and their impact on the listener are substantially different.

Feedback is educational, intended to help me grow by offering an outside view of my behavior. Criticism focuses on fault finding and blaming. Instead of entering a process to improve it, the critic stands outside the process and throws stones.

Feedback comes from service and humility. Criticism is essentially a passive-aggressive form of bragging that aims to demean and diminish me. The critic seeks attention by casting himself as the expert.

So here are some thoughts about responding to feedback and criticism.


I want feedback to be interactive, because it’s a conversation in the context of a relationship. I want to ask clarifying questions and determine specifics that help me replicate positive results and improve less desirable outcomes.

Criticism is generally one-way, so it’s sometimes best received in writing. This allows for some emotional distance and prevents an endless, on-and-on barrage.

Written criticism has another advantage—it’s easy to wad up the page and deposit it appropriately in the circular file (or hit DELETE).

Feedback encourages self-examination, an essential aspect of living life on-purpose. Personally, I want to be accountable, so I want feedback. I want people in my circle who reinforce positive behavior, but I also want them to help me see into my blind spots and tell me when I’m getting off course. Feedback, whether congratulation or correction, may be difficult to receive, but it’s an essential part of living life on purpose.

Since I generally wish to dismiss criticism, it’s difficult to learn much from it. However, I need to be open and realize that criticism may contain some nuggets of truth. If I’m confident within my own skin, I can sift through the junk and seek areas that might require attention.


For me, living on-purpose involves a desire to learn and grow. When I perceive an area where I’ve missed the mark, I need to acknowledge it and seek ways to improve. I may need to apologize, seek information, or ask for help.

If a critic tells me I failed, that’s not a call-to-action. If I can discern a specific area in which I can do better, I need to address it. Otherwise, there’s that round file and the DELETE key.


I think it’s appropriate to allow emotion in a feedback environment. Genuine joy and sorrow fit within a relationship. Of course this must be tempered by the setting, but authentic feedback involves an emotional investment from the giver, so it’s difficult to deny an emotional response from the receiver.

Criticism is designed to provoke negative emotions so it’s best, though certainly not easy, to avoid an emotional reaction. I’m reminded of another of my favorite admonitions:

Never argue with an idiot. Observers may not be able to tell the difference.

The only thing that results from arguing, crying, or becoming angry with a critic is additional criticism, because the emotion gives the critic the attention he craves. Scripture advises: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” [2 Tim 2:23]

Those are some of my thoughts. What’s your take?

How do you respond to feedback and criticism? What would you like to do better?

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Copyright 2009 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site

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