Is there someone who can’t seem to stop criticizing you? Is it challenging to know how to respond?
It’s a great strategy to maximize the time we spend with people who give us energy and minimize time with those who drain our energy. But when my critic is a family member or a co-worker or someone who is part of my daily life, it’s not so simple. With my non-stop critic, I first tried applying 2 Timothy 2:24-25:
“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (NLT).
When attacked, I would respond with calm explanations, but calm explanations didn’t help. Eventually, I quit responding, but then my critic experienced my non-response as disrespect.
So, I shared my dilemma with my spiritual director. “I have given up on responding at all because I don’t want to be defensive,” I explained.
His response surprised me. “You don’t have to be defensive; you can be curious.”
“Curious? What do you mean?”
“When he criticizes you, instead of explaining your perspective, ask him to explain his. ‘Why do you say that? Help me understand.’”
Hmm. Sounds a lot like St. Francis’ prayer: “Grant that I may not so much seek…to be understood as to understand.” And like James: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak” (1:19 NLT).
In my situation, my perceptions and my critic’s were so far apart that we never found common ground, but I did learn a simple, powerful way to respond with respect.
Rochella is new to our church and full of enthusiasm, but when we do something differently from what she experienced in previous churches, her first impulse is to be critical. She says, “I don’t know where this critical spirit is coming from. I need to get to the bottom of it.”
Drawing on my spiritual director’s advice, I told Rochella, “I have a word for you: curiosity.”
“When we do something differently from the way you’ve done it, instead of criticizing, you can ask, ‘Can you help me understand why you do that?’ You’ll probably learn something, and then when you offer suggestions for how we can do things better, they’re more likely to be on target.”
When someone criticizes me, instead of being defensive, I can choose curiosity. When I have misgivings about what someone is doing or a new idea, instead of criticizing, I can choose curiosity: “Can you help me understand?”
I can seek to understand before I seek to be understood.
- Do you have a critic in your life? How could you respond to his or her criticism with curiosity?
- This week will you look for an opportunity to respond to a new idea or a way of doing things that you’re not so sure about with curiosity rather than criticism?