TiO 45 – The Art of Relationship – The Lost Art of Handling Criticism


The Main Idea

Criticism is most often used as a bad word these days. But at its core it can simply be “the act of judging the merits or faults of something.” However, we neither give nor receive criticism very well and most often it consists of tearing others down with no good resulting. This week Todd spoke from Proverbs about constructive ways to both give and receive criticism from others.

Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)

Q1: Are you a detail-oriented person?

Q2: Have you ever been asked, as an expert, for your opinion on something? Tell that story.

Q3: If you could fix one thing about the City of Winnipeg (something fixable, the weather is not a good example here) what would it be?

Dig a Little Deeper

John Gottman, relationship guru, says that there are four ways in which toxic communication forms: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. In his message, Todd identified criticism as being a topic often talked about in the Proverbs. He spoke both of how to give good criticism and how to receive it. Keep in mind here that criticism can be a neutral word: a word that speaks of breaking down thoughts and actions and commenting on them. These days we often see criticism as being a negative and destructive thing because so often it is negative and used to exert power over other people.

Solomon, the writer of many of the Proverbs, thought that being able to accept the wisdom of others was pretty important.

Read Proverbs 10:17 and Proverbs 13:18

Q1: What do these Proverbs say about the people who learn to listen to the wisdom of others?

So, with our hearts open to giving and receiving criticism (wisdom, advice, insight) from others, let’s take a look at some of the principles of giving and receiving criticism.

How to Give Criticism
  • Stop assaulting: Watch your startup
  • stay away from words that point at another person or that speak of universal and unchanging truths about communication
  • “You”, “always”, “never” are words that are not generally helpful if what you want to communicate is how another person has affected you and if what you want is behaviour from another which changes how you are treated

Q2: What impact do words like “always” and “never” have on you when people direct them at you. For example, if someone were to say, “You never clean up after yourself!” what is your reaction?

Q3: What are the alternatives to “always” and “never”?

  • Own the wish: Don’t let your heart fool you (Read Proverbs 11:12)
  • Do not let your need for revenge or for the other person to feel your hurt get in the way of actual progress in relationships or communication. While stabbing back at someone who has hurt you may make you feel good momentarily, it will not effect lasting change
  • Communicate the impact that the action or words had on you and what you need instead

Q4: How can communicating your needs be an effective way to communicate? How does it help you? How does it help the other person?

  • Just admit it: Criticism doesn’t work (Read Proverbs 12:18)
  • This is true if we are trying to boost our own ego by cutting someone else down
  • This is true if we are trying to boost our own value by devaluing another person

Q5: Does it make sense that devaluing someone else will remove the devaluation you feel? Where does your value come from?

How to Receive Criticism

While we may know how to properly give criticism, we cannot guarantee that others know how to. So, you are often faced with people who criticize in the wrong way or with poor motives. But that does not mean you can simply ignore the criticism. Sometimes (oftentimes) there is truth buried in the mud. Here are some guidelines for extracting that truth.

  • Respond: don’t react (read Psalm 119:42)
  • Reaction allows you emotions to rule your communication. Mature people control their emotions (reaction) and instead respond with grace

Q6: How can a simple “thank you”, when faced with criticism, serve to control your emotions and, perhaps, change the course of a conversation? For example, when faced with “You never give me back my tools when you borrow them” how would “Thank you for identifying that weakness in me.. Sometimes I do forget to return your tools when I borrow them” change the tenor of the conversation?

  • Be classy: look for the jewel (read Proverbs 25:12)
  • All interaction with other people is a call to be “your classiest self.”

Q7: How can a genuine evaluation of the content of the criticism help you to find the actual truth buried in hurt and emotion?

  • Give it time: process it! (Read Proverbs 15:31)
  • Our first response when faced with criticism is rarely the best one.
  • Especially when the criticism is not “in the moment”, eg., criticism in an email, you have an opportunity to take time to evaluate what is being said and how much truth there is

Q8: How can time help to temper your responses to people and events?

Next Steps

If we are going to make our relationships with other people better than they are we need to be able to both give and accept criticism.

Q1: In what kinds of circumstances (certain people, certain actions) do you find that the criticism you give does not produces the effects you desire? What can you do to change both the nature of your criticism and the effect that it might have?

Q2: Who are you most likely to accept criticism from? Who are you least likely to accept criticism from? Do your biases ever prevent you from learning from others? What can you do to change that?

The Depth (for optional study)

In this section we are providing an in-depth look into the scriptures that the message came out of. There are two critical steps in good interpretation of the Bible. First, we try to understand what the author meant when he wrote the words and how that would have been applied by the original audience. Second, we then take the principles that the original author was trying to get across to his audience and we apply those principles to our own lives. You may want to read some of these passages yourself and/or have people in your group read them together.

Keep in mind, with these verses, that not all translators use the same words when moving from Hebrew (the original language) to English. So, the translators use words like “instruction”, “rebuke”, “reproof”, and others to talk about the idea of criticism.

Proverbs 10:17

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray.

Proverbs 13:18

Poverty and disgrace are for the one who ignores instruction,
but one who heeds reproof is honored.

Proverbs 11:12

Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
but an intelligent person remains silent.

Proverbs 12:18

Rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 29:20

Do you see someone who is hasty in speech?
There is more hope for a fool than for anyone like that.

Proverbs 15:31

The ear that heeds wholesome admonition
will lodge among the wise.

Proverbs 15:32

Those who ignore instruction despise themselves,
but those who heed admonition gain understanding.

Proverbs 29:1

One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn,
will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

Proverbs 25:12

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
is a wise rebuke to a listening ear.

Psalm 119:42

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise.
Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
for I trust in your word.

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