How to Deal with Criticism
Finding a positive way to handle feedback
We find ourselves in a divided and contentious society in which many of yesterday’s truths have lost meaning. Priests are here to help all people and not harm anyone; politicians are honorable people who have integrity; no one would indiscriminately injure people they do not know. We find these truths to have failed in today’s society, and this, in turn, creates stress, frustration, anger and uncertainty. Instead of simply stating opinions, people now seem to criticize.
Such criticism, random acts of damage and political duplicity, have created people in the United States and around the world who are at a peak of continual stress and frustration. The new notion of “fake news” has become entrenched in our vocabulary: If you don’t like or agree with what is being said, you simply call it fake news. Is it fake news, or criticism, or feedback, to give an opinion? Before we define our terms, let’s ask an old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Concrete thinkers say, of course it makes a sound. Another answer would be that if no one is there to hear it, it did not make a sound because no one was there to hear the sound and to give it meaning.
What meaning do we give to criticism, feedback and/or fake news? We have to learn to give meaning to truth again and to understand the truth, not based on a vicarious image, but rather truth based on logical, well-founded and accurate statements. Criticism, also, needs to be based and accepted on truth, accompanied with compassion, integrity and competence.
In this article, we will examine the following three facets of criticism:
∙ What is criticism?
∙ Is feedback the same as criticism?
∙ Is there a positive way to deal with criticism?
What Is Criticism?
Criticism, in its fundamental form, is an opinion, an expression of disapproval about a person or a group based on perceived faults, mistakes or affiliation. Criticism is the practice of judging the merits of a person’s character or faults. Sometimes it is based solely on the tribe one belongs to: parishioners and nonparishioners criticizing all priests based on the acts of sexual perversion by a few; individuals complaining that all priests must have known what was going on and did not speak out; Republicans to Democrats and Democrats to Republicans disparaging one another; one sect criticizing another based on religion that creates hatred without individually knowing people; bias based on skin color rather than character and quality of humanness.
Criticism is one person speaking about another with and without facts (what that person believes the facts to be). Some people criticize others so they can feel better, so that they can elevate themselves as righteous.
The most important aspect of criticism is the meaning that the one on the receiving end gives to it. People criticize others from different races, gender, residential locations, professions, religions, schooling and vocabulary. What meaning do they have, and how should criticism be interpreted and internalized? Do you know if the critique is based on individual research, uncovered facts, personal, firsthand knowledge or a repetition of what someone wishes to be true?
Have you ever watched a wrestling match where the opponents battle it out in the ring and the onlookers are screaming for one person to win? Why are they screaming for someone to win whom they do not know? Because they are judgmental critics and want to live vicariously through the association of what they feel good about. The onlookers have created a scenario with a good person and a bad person in which they have become the critics of the wrestlers and now voice support or criticism.
We all have opinions that easily can be vocalized in the form of criticism. Here are a few opinions: Priests should have the right to marry; Church leaders should have dealt quickly with the sexual cover-up that has permeated the Church for hundreds of years; women should be given more power within the Catholic church’s leadership and be allowed to be ordained as priests; living as a priest is unnatural; good holy priests are being convicted for something they did not do.
As you read the above statements, what were your thoughts and opinions, and could you criticize any of those opinions? Did you want to render a critiquing opinion? Critiquing seems to be second nature to all of us.
Is Feedback the Same as Criticism?
Feedback is based on a person’s judgment about a product, service and/or performance of a task by another, and its intention is so the person being looked at might in the future enhance the product, service and/or performance. There are four forms of feedback explored: evaluative, observational interpretation, supportive and developmental.
Evaluative feedback, just as it sounds, is the evaluation of a situation and the people involved in that situation. Having supportive facts about the situation or environment is absolutely critical to being able to give any form of feedback. Evaluative feedback is a process of arriving at a judgment and communicating that judgment to others based on evidence. Keep in mind that every behavior is given meaning predicated on the environment in which it is performed. Without the understanding of the environment or situation, the behavior basically has no context. To evaluate a behavior, it needs to be put in the context of the situation; then, and only then, can an honest evaluative opinion be created about that behavior. Once the situation clearly is understood, comments, opinions and criticism can then be appropriately given. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).
Observational interpretive feedback is observing a behavior within a situation and then forming an opinion (positive or negative). People personalize interpretations based on life experiences and an interpretive understanding of a particular situation. Two people can listen, observe and interact in a situation and create two entirely different interpretations. Republicans and Democrats, religious and laity, and fans of different sports teams all can observe the exact same behavior, at the same time and place, and have divergent opinions. Once the situation is clearly observed in an appropriate manner, encouragement or criticism can be appropriately given. Picture yourself during a quiet night in the garden when suddenly a group of soldiers arrives and you see an old friend and say, “Do what you have come for” (Mt 26:50). What is your interpretation, that Judas is evil, turning on his friend, or that without this act of betrayal there is no Paschal Triduum?
Supportive feedback is an evaluation and interpretation concerning behavior in a situation that is judged to be correct and should continue. Supportive feedback states that the behavior has been judged to be right and just, and it needs to be sustained, because it creates a successful and an appropriate act leading to a perceived right outcome. Once a behavior is identified as worthwhile, people should comment in a positive manner to give encouragement to continue. Unfortunately, positive, supportive feedback is not given as frequently as negative criticism. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. … And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16:17-18).
Developmental feedback is an evaluation and interpretation concerning behavior in a situation that is judged to be incorrect and should change in some way or form. Developmental feedback is given to help people come to a realization that their present behavior is not appropriate and needs to change. Once a behavior is identified as needing to be changed, comments most frequently are stated as criticism and not stated developmentally or in a helpful manner. Reflect the fear that Peter felt denying Christ, yet later returning to Rome knowing he would be killed. The developmental strength and courage shown years later by Peter was staggering.
The purpose of all four types of feedback are for the continuation of future actions or change in those actions based on past actions. This means that feedback needs to be given the right meaning and not always interpreted as criticism. It is up to the person receiving the feedback to give it meaning, internalize it as valid or not, and to weigh and personalize the impact of the feedback, which could be perceived as criticism. Does the meaning of criticism change based on the type of feedback (criticism) that is given? The answer, generally, is yes.
Is There a Positive Way to Deal with Criticism?
Dealing with criticism for yourself
When facing what you perceive as criticism, develop a fact-based plan by writing down the criticism; don’t just think about it. Describe in writing:
∙ The criticizing statement(s).
∙ Your thoughts about the criticism (valid to nonsense).
∙ The situation that created the criticism.
∙ Your emotions.
∙ The best and worst outcomes for you.
∙ How to reframe your thoughts to create peaceful and encouraging feelings.
∙ How will your thoughts and feelings create for you a meaningful future?
Handling criticism from others
∙ Be a good listener, encourage discussion.
∙ Discuss what is the truth; can you live with the truth?
∙ Is the critiquing feedback valid or nonsense?
∙ Acknowledge your personal role in the situation (if any).
∙ Do not try to refute the criticism and emotions. Instead, state the facts with honest, empathic and sincere appreciation.
∙ Help people to feel that their criticism has been heard, whether you agree or disagree with it.
∙ Criticism focuses on the past; refocus people toward the future. Be transparent and forthcoming; don’t have any hidden agenda or manipulation.
∙ Decide what you need to do to be more successful.
∙ Decide what actions you will take to heal and move to a better future for both you and the one offering criticism, but remember that you can change yourself and your response to criticism even if the other person does not change.
Support yourself! We cannot change the past. However, you can support yourself and others to create positive emotions and feel upbeat about the work you are doing as a priest. Be a catalyst to yourself and others for personal happiness and an encouraging future.
Reflect on the following:
∙ Consider the value you give to opinions in the form of criticism, feedback and truth.
∙ Be factual.
∙ Work through the emotional impact of criticism.
∙ Develop the ability to understand the situation and behavior through your eyes and the eyes of others.
∙ Have a goal, and continually move toward that future goal.
∙ Develop personal resilience by being aware of your situation, the others’ situations and the truth.
Why do people criticize? Are they feeling despair, pain or anger over the realization that a long-held belief has become, in actuality, a lie? Most Catholics have held that priests, while human and fallible, would never purposely inflict damage on another, especially the helpless and the innocent. When such depravities come to light, many Catholics find the only power they have to alleviate their pain, anger and despair is refutation of those actions by criticism of all priests and the Church ut totum. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).
As a religious leader, you are obliged to listen to such criticism, but your response must be appropriate, collaborative and focused on others and not yourself — a difficult mission indeed. Your ideas should be shaped in a cooperative mode, and you must learn to listen effectively. Remember to focus on Christ’s promise and not the pain of the day. You need to have the quiet conviction to succeed and keep moving toward your ultimate future goals.
How did Jesus handle criticism? Many times he did it with silence, knowing his inner peace, conviction and resilience would conquer hatred. You need to be able to develop resilience and move beyond the voicing and listening of opinions with criticism and feedback; listen for the truth.
Finally, we all need to understand the complexity and frustration of change and adapt our attitudes accordingly. It is easy to walk away, deny and show disdain toward others. Are you a priestly role model who leads during a crisis to support all, even the criticizers? Do you accept Christ’s promise, or are you focusing on the emotional attributes of the angry? Find your inner peace in your soul by focusing on the promise of redemption and being a role model for all.
REX P. GATTO, Ph.D., is an internationally known speaker who has authored five books, including “Smart Manager’s FAQ” as well as books on stress, presentation, work/life balance and mentoring.
MICKEY GATTO, M.Ed., is a certified cognitive-behavioral therapist and a certified mediator.
WORDS OF WISDOM ON HANDLING CRITICISM
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” — Aristotle
“The individual must not merely wait and criticize, he must defend the cause the best he can. The fate of the world will be such as the world deserves.” — Albert Einstein
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” — Charles Schwab
“We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love
for him.” — Michel De Montaigne