One of the inevitable experiences of life is that someone, somewhere, at some time, is going to take issue with something you have done, said, accomplished, or even thought. In other words, you are going to cross paths with good, old-fashioned criticism.
So how should we approach the inevitable criticism that will come our way?
Every instance of criticism has two components: the messenger and the message, either of which can be positive or negative. For example, the messenger can either desire the best for you (positive), or sadly, he or she could just want to cut you down (negative). Similarly, the actual content of the message can be right on and true (positive), or it can be way off and not helpful (negative).
So if you receive criticism from a person who is for you, like a mentor, close friend, or coach, and the content of the message is true, you should embrace that feedback and learn from it. On the flip side, if you receive criticism from a person you know is not for you and the content of the message is not true, then do yourself a favor and just ignore the criticism and move on.
Now for the tricky part: What do you do when you receive criticism that is not even true about you, but the messenger is actually a person you trust? Or what if you receive criticism you know you need to listen to, but you also know the messenger is not in your corner whatsoever? Those are messy situations, and they happen more often than we would like.
In those situations, our tendency is to develop hard hearts and thin skin.
But instead of hard hearts and thin skin, what we really need to develop is thick skin and soft hearts. We need to receive criticism without allowing it to hurt or wound us. That is much easier said than done, but it is a place each of us needs to move toward. Additionally, we need to honor the messengers in our lives with genuine respect. Otherwise, our hearts will turn rock hard, leading to recurring problems with others in our lives.
So let’s interpret those gray areas of criticism as opportunities to develop thin skin and soft hearts.
In other words, if you receive criticism from a positive messenger with a negative message, see that as an opportunity to develop thick skin, not allowing the negative message to wound you and lead to a hard heart. In the same way, when you receive a positive message from a negative messenger, see that as an opportunity to develop a soft heart by taking the message at face value and keeping a respectful outlook on the messenger, knowing that they have helped you to improve, even if they may not have had the best of intentions.
So the next time you receive some criticism, look at it through the lens of the message and messenger, and either embrace the feedback, ignore it, or use the gray areas as opportunities to develop the thick skin and a soft heart.