Be defensive first, ask questions later – not the best idea

Posted on August 13, 2014 · Posted in Communication, Criticism_

“That’s a bad idea! How could you think of something that awful?”

“That’s a pretty good job. But you know, if you just did this one part a little bit more carefully, it would be really great.”

“That stinks!”

“That is not what I told you to do.”

“Well, maybe next time you’ll do better.”


The five examples of criticism listed above are painful to read and even more painful to hear. Hearing someone’s unkind and unfair criticism does indeed present a trial and a challenge. 


From a gospel-centered perspective your first thought when you receive unfair criticism should focus on how you can return good for evil—because this is what God has done for you. God has not treated you as your sins deserve. This is how he wants you to respond to unfair criticism. The flesh cries out for a quick comeback that puts the critical speaker in his place. God calls you to give grace instead of anger.  Self-centered anger calls for a quick, witty put-down. In contrast, the Holy Spirit says that a soft answer turns away wrath.


If your habit is to bristle at criticism, you will seldom recognize the value of a rebuke. James says that you should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even if a particular criticism seems unwarranted, you would be wise to consider whether there may be something in the criticism that you should consider. In any event, a quick, cutting response is not one that displays the beauty of the gospel. This is an important point to consider as you work at being a Christ-like example to your children. If you do not model the grace of Christ’s love in your conversations, who will?


Additionally, an aversion to criticism will hinder your ability to lead your children and to be a loving spouse. Being defensive first and asking questions later is destructive to relationships.  Here is a better way. 


Instead of snapping back or being hurt or defensive when you think you are unfairly criticized, have the courage to calmly say, “It was not my intention to be insensitive to you. Please help me understand how I have hurt you. Let’s work through this together.”


This type of response is an example of a soft answer turning away wrath. This will strengthen your marriage and help build stronger relationships with your children.


Yes, unfair, stinging criticism is difficult to receive. But the power of the cross is available to you. We no longer have to live as the world does. We have no reason to fire a quick response at an unkind remark. We can live trusting the words of the Holy Spirit which tells us that a soft answer turns away wrath. We can seek peace. We can live the gospel.


Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.