Responding to Criticism – Part 5


Part five of a series on criticism based on a sign outside of a sandwich shop which read, “Come in and try the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life.”

If our sandwich shop owner were ever to come to me for advice on what to do next, I would say, “Stop following yourself on Yelp. Don’t Google your restaurant, or read your reviews on Angie’s List. If you want to know if your meatball sandwich, or any other sandwich on your menu, is any good, ask people whose opinions matter to you. Talk to your regulars, other sandwich shop owners, and your staff.”

Let me be blunt: You cannot listen to anonymous critiques. If someone is unwilling to put their name to it, it is not worth your time. Throw away the anonymous note. Go to your trash and delete from your email the rumor someone is bringing to your attention. Tell the rest of the staff not to share rumors with you.

Go on Yelp or Amazon.com and look at the negative reviews. People can be downright mean when they know they will never have to defend what they are writing. They can call it “the worst meatball sandwich [I] ever had in [my] life” when their statement will never be challenged. The same is true for the anonymous note, the comment said in confidence to another member of the staff, and the “whole group of people” whom the presenting critic claims to represent.

I knew a lead pastor who received an anonymous note about a sermon early in his tenure at a congregation. One of his illustrations was about a friend who had a vasectomy. The anonymous critic felt the word vasectomy should not be used in church. The pastor let the note get inside him. In future sermons he often wondered if the critic was out there waiting for him to say something else they found offensive. His preaching lost much of its power. Many years later, he still had the note and it haunted him.

Another time I began to hear rumors of widespread complaints of a staff of which I was a member. It appeared a significant number of people in our congregation were expressing displeasure with us. I wanted to understand what was going on, so I started to ask questions whenever I heard a complaint. Before long, I was able to trace every one of those threads of complaint back to a single person. What appeared to be dozens of people was actually one who had complained to dozens.

When I shared that story with our current lead pastor he shared his technique. He said when a critic comes to him saying there is a group “out there” that agrees with him or her, the lead pastor will ask for five names. Nine times out of ten, the person can only come up with one or two at most. If there are five, he will begin to talk to those people and find out what’s going on.

The fact is, our restaurant owner cannot satisfy the anonymous guy on Yelp. Nor can you address the concerns of your anonymous reviewer. For that reason you cannot listen, and simply need to move on.


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