Tom Arthur

I have a pretty serious emotional poker face. It’s hard to tell what I’m feeling from my expression. This poker face helps me pretend that my feathers don’t get ruffled when someone criticizes me; but if I’m really honest, I have to admit that I don’t receive negative feedback any better than anyone else. When someone says I’m not doing a good job, when I get a bad grade, or when I receive an angry email, I get tense and anxious. My stomach ties up in knots; my heartbeat accelerates. I dwell on that negative feedback all day, even though it may have come among a sea of positive comments.


devozine Critic-Ask for It Flip TSP 147017592The only time I am able to avoid all this craziness is when I ask for feedback. Ask for feedback? Yep. When I ask someone to critique me or my work, something different happens. I’m less defensive and anxious; I open up and choose to receive the feedback. After all, I asked for it.

I recently read that psychological research has shown a similar response to be true for most people: When we ask for feedback, we receive negative feedback much better than if we didn’t ask for it. I’ve also found that when I ask for constructive criticism, people are more likely to give it to me in a kind, gentle, and loving way. My occasional requests for feedback provide a healthy release valve for any frustration they may feel toward me, so their feelings don’t build up inside and come out in one big blast of negativity. Asking for feedback not only helps me to be more open to receiving criticism; it also helps the other person to offer praise or criticism in healthier ways.

The Humility of Feedback

I think asking for feedback is actually an extension of the Christian virtue of humility. Paul says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12, NRSV). Humility is an attitude that admits the truth: “I don’t have it all together. I don’t have all the answers. I need you to help me be the person God wants me to be.” When you ask for someone to give you feedback, you’re practicing humility.

So how does this work? Here are some habits I’ve adopted to help me ask for feedback. At least once a month, I ask my wife how I’m doing as her husband. I regularly ask my colleagues how well I’m doing my job. I invite friends and teachers to look over my work and to tell me if they see anything that can be improved. To help me grow personally and professionally, I seek out mentors who are older than I am and who have more life experience and professional expertise than I do. I meet every other week with a small group of men who ask how I am doing in my walk with Christ. Every day I sit in prayer and ask God for this same kind of feedback. Then I listen. When I get an answer, I ask God to help me live it out.



Whom do you need to ask for feedback—a friend? your girlfriend or boyfriend? a parent? a teacher? your pastor? Set up a time this week to sit down with one person and ask, “How can I be a better friend, son or daughter, student, Christian?” Then listen. If you receive wise advice, say, “Thanks, I’ll give it a try.” Then try it. Ask God for help.

Tom Arthur , pastor of Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Michigan, welcomes feedback on this article: What did you like? What could he have done better? Respond to him at

—from devozine (November/December 2012). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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