In recent years I have been directly told that I am smart, ridiculous, proud, not proud, intense, impulsive, thoughtful, assuming, friendly, looking down upon, compassionate, value being on time, and do not value being on time. Are you as confused as I am? With so much contradiction in description, who is right? Should I even listen to how people describe me?
Apparently enough people wrestle with these questions since Ecclesiastes 7:21 tells us “do not take to heart everything people say.” How do we discern what to take to heart? If we’re not to live for the approval of people and we’re not to take everything to heart and yet we are to be humble and teachable, how do we process people’s assessments of us?
10 Tips to Sift People’s Opinions of You:
- Be grounded in God’s assessment. First and foremost, we most know, understand, accept, and remember God’s perfect assessment of us, which is revealed throughout the Bible. I like to start with Psalm 139. He says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. He says He thinks about me all the time and I can’t possibly count all the thoughts He has towards me. He says He understands me and is intricately acquainted with my ways. Everything I’m going to say today, He already knows! In another passage though, He warns that even while loving His Word, I can still so easily be like a straying sheep (Psalm 119).
- Consider the source. How well does this person know me? How often are they around me? In how many different circumstances have they seen me? Do I trust them? Do I feel loved by them? Are they wise? Are they an authority figure? Are they my spouse? My child? Close friend? Acquaintance? Complete stranger? How does this person treat others? What is this person’s reputation? Are they known as being kind in general or harsh? Are they known for speaking their mind? Flattering?
- Consider the timing. Is the person hangry? Tired? Sick? Is it that time of month? Is the person under a lot of stress at home, work, in a relationship, etc.? Is the person busy and feeling rushed? Am I myself experiencing any of these things and perhaps being more sensitive at the moment to what is being said or reading more into the situation than I should be?
- Consider the subject matter being discussed. Are you discussing a sensitive or important topic for the person or between the two of you? Are emotions running high in either of you?
- Hear past the tone. Just because someone is confident does not mean that they are correct. Just because they won’t come around and admit any fault or unkindness, doesn’t mean they are correct. Hear past their confidence and examine the actual content.
- Ask follow-up questions. If you are not sure where someone is coming from with their assessment of you, humbly ask questions for clarification. For example, if someone says you don’t value being on time, ask what you have done that has led them to that conclusion. Try not to get defensive in the process but seek to understand their perspective. Understanding does not equal agreeing.
- Gather additional assessments. If you have been described in a way you don’t agree with, go to additional sources and ask their opinion about you in that specific area. For example, if someone says you are proud, ask several close friends if they think you are proud. Make sure you are prepared to be truly teachable though and give them the assurance you want their honest feedback.
- Beware of self-worship taking place. People can say some really, really horrific statements when they are fully focused on self. Even when the two of you have a very close relationship. When you know you are dealing with someone consumed with self at the moment, be very wary of taking anything they say to heart.
- Listen for any truth. This might sound like contradictory advice from what I have said so far, but I actually believe it is a very helpful mindset. Knowing I was about to have a hard conversation with some people, a mentor advised me to listen for any truth in what was being said to me. As people talk to us, we don’t have to be a sponge absorbing everything said believing it naïvely without discernment, nor do we have to be a brick wall void of any absorption taking place. If I can stay calm when hard to digest words come my way and listen carefully for any truth, I might just find a nugget of gold in the mix. So I sift the words, absorbing the truth and pitching the rest.
- Be like Jesus. The more I observe Jesus’ interactions with people during those long 33 years here on earth, the more amazed I am at His reactions to people. Study the gospels and become well-acquainted with what people said to Jesus and what He thought and said (or didn’t say) in return. He is our ultimate example of how to process what people say to us. Study, study, study His life. Then be just like Him!
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21 Don’t take everything to heart that is said to you!