Of course, that can often be easier said than done. Especially for women in ministry where our work is often connected to our deepest values, it’s hard not to take criticism personally. But in order to use criticism to strengthen us and our ministry, we have to break away from this mindset and reeducate ourselves to operate under a different set of rules. We know we can’t control what other people say, but we can control how we respond to it. Next time you hear a criticism, whether or not you feel tempted to take it personally, force yourself to view it just as a learning experience. Even when it’s hard to know what the giver really meant or intended, taking this mindset will allow us to harness the power of criticism to improve ourselves without letting it derail us from the mission that God put us on this earth to accomplish. As my mother used to say, “When you hear criticism, learn to hear it as words from a friend who is trying to help you. Most people don’t care enough about you to say anything. They’ll just stand by and watch you fail.”
A sure way to sabotage ourselves as women in leadership is to focus on the hurt instead of learning from the message. When we are hurt, our tendency may be to retaliate and to shoot the messenger. Before we know it, we could find ourselves in the middle of a mud sling! Instead of responding from hurt feelings, we can respond as a researcher assimilating new findings to become more effective in our work. Perhaps someone is not 100 percent correct in their evaluation of you, but is there any percent of truth in what they are saying? When we can find the nugget of truth, we can use criticism to sharpen our focus and refine our strategy.
When I first started a non-profit organization, someone accused the staff of being self-promoting. I could have written off their criticism by saying, “What do I care what they think?” Instead, I decided to form a strategy of growth that used their criticism as ammunition. I challenged the staff to prove their purity by raising their own support. Their willingness to do so touched a supporter deeply, resulting in a gift to the ministry that helped cover our payroll. What someone meant for evil, God transformed for good. Over the years God has taught me criticism cannot stop God’s mission, but it can give us clarity and inspire greater support from those who watch us persevere.