7 Characteristics of an Effective Critic

A few days ago I had a long conversation with a critic of me. Actually, it would be better to say that he is a critic of a decision I made. He would not want to describe himself as a critic of me in the general sense.

Rare is the person who actually enjoys criticisms. I certainly would not be among that unique group. But this man made the criticism tolerable. And he certainly gained my respect by the way he handled it.

Immediately after the conversation, I began to think through how he had approached me. I thought about his words, his body language, and even his preparation for criticizing me. I realized I had a case study on effective criticism. I also was able to note seven of the characteristics of this conversation where he criticized me.

  1. He had no pattern of having a critical spirit. Some people are perpetually critical. Their negativity is known and often avoided. Such people have little credibility. Even if they have something worthy to say, it is often ignored because of their patterns in the past. That was not the case with this man. He was not known as a negative person. He did not speak or write in a critical way on an ongoing basis. Because of this pattern, I was inclined to listen to him.
  2. He prayed before he criticized. In fact, this man prayed every day for two weeks before he ever approached me. He asked God to stop him if his mission was not meant to be. He did not take the moment lightly. To the contrary, he treated it with utmost seriousness.
  3. He communicated concern without anger. This critic did not once raise his voice. His body language did not communicate anger. He was passionate in his position while maintaining his composure.
  4. He avoided any ad hominem attacks. My critic wanted to be certain that I knew he was not attacking me personally. He affirmed me in many ways. He voiced respect for my character. But he did not waver in his expressed concern. Never once did I feel like I was under attack personally.
  5. He asked for my perspective. Frankly, most of my critics through the years have not expressed any desire to hear my side of the story. They are so intent to communicate their position that they leave no room for me to speak. Such was not the case with this critic. He asked a surprising question early in the conversation: “Thom, why did you make this decision? I really want to hear your thoughts straight from you.”
  6. He listened to me. Undoubtedly you’ve been in those conversations where the other person really does not indicate any desire to listen to you. Even while you are speaking, it is evident that he or she is formulating the next response rather than hearing your words. This critic not only asked for my perspective, he really listened as I spoke. The only time he interjected was to ask clarifying questions.
  7. He was humble. One of the primary reasons we get defensive when we are criticized is the attitude of the critic. They often seem to have an all-knowing and condescending spirit. To the contrary, my critic was genuinely humble. He was not a know-it-all. He did not act like the smartest man in the room. Frankly his humility was humbling to me.

You can’t be a leader without being criticized. Leaders have to make decisions, and it’s rare that everyone will agree with your decisions. While dealing with critics is not the most pleasant part of leadership, it is a necessary part. Sometimes leaders must discount the message because of the lack of credibility of the messenger. But, in my case, I heard from a critic who truly made me pause and consider his position. Not only did I hear his position, though, I learned even more about being an effective critic and recipient of criticism.

For those reasons, this fallible leader is very grateful.

Read more from Thom here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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