Fact: Criticism can really hurt if we let it!
Fact: Learning to deal with constructive and destructive criticism can serve as a very effective catalyst to help us become more mature, centred and balanced individuals.
All too often, we take criticism extremely personally, forgetting that it is usually a comment on our actions or behaviour, rather than an attack on the person we are. It can be easy to put up defences, creating an impasse in communication and allowing a damaging effect in personal or working relationships.
Although few would honestly say that they find criticism easy or enjoyable to deal with, there are strategies that can be learned to handle it more skilfully and minimise any emotional trauma.
If you would like to get a head start on handling criticism and are happy to try self-help, here are some tips you may find beneficial. If, however, you know you are particularly sensitive to criticism and you would like some professional support, please feel free to claim your FREE 30 minute Change Your Lifestyle Consultation by going to my website www.vernonaharris.com or call Vernon on 07866 730941.
Part One: Working on Your Mindset
Tip 1 Discern the type of criticism you are dealing with
Deciding whether you are dealing with constructive or destructive criticism is the essential first step, as this will inform your entire approach. If the criticism has come in a professional context – work, study, volunteering – it was probably intended to be constructive, even if it wasn’t delivered perfectly. If the criticism has come from a context outside of your professional life, though, it may be more difficult to discern whether it was meant with constructive or destructive intent. If it was received from someone you respect and trust, there’s a need to weigh it up and see if you find any truth in what has been said. If, on the other hand, you decide that it is simply a negative projection or that it sprang from a less than scrupulous motive, then your approach needs to be focused on retaining your self-esteem and confidence (see Tips 6 to 8).
Tip 2 Make yourself receptive to feedback
OK, so if you’ve decided that the criticism is constructive and you want to be able to work with it, there are two important things to do: i) recognise that it is not a negative comment about yourself as a person and ii) look carefully at what you are actually being told. For example, if your boss asks why you don’t share your ideas at team meetings, it’s not because you’re being labelled “stand-offish” but because he or she thinks you have valid points to make that would benefit your co-workers.
If your college teacher asks you why you aren’t completing coursework regularly, it’s not because you’re considered unintelligent or incapable, but because they are aware that you will be able to complete the course successfully if you persevere and become a little more disciplined. It’s likely that you would be offered hints and pointers to help you develop the relevant skills in most aspects of professional life, especially if you ask for them, and most managers and mentors recognise this as good practice. If you apply a similarly receptive attitude with respect to criticism in other areas of your life, you will find that listening with an open mind is a very transferable skill. For example, if your friend says she doesn’t see enough of you, she’s not saying you’re ignoring her – perhaps just that she misses your company and would love a chance to catch up, even over a cup of coffee…
Tip 3 Gently build up your tolerance to criticism
This is something you can build into your professional life by actively seeking honest feedback from professional mentors, peers and Line Managers. OK, the minutes you took from the meeting look thorough and accurate to you – but did you ask anyone who attended to check your draft before final distribution to see if there was anything you missed? The way you handled that customer complaint sounded fine to you – but is there anything else a more experienced colleague might have added to show an exemplary response? If you pro-actively seek it, you will always receive feedback appropriate to your needs.
When it comes to your personal life, again, you will have developed a transferable skill by being able to ask for honest opinion – and your relationships can only benefit from this. The importance of being able to talk openly and honestly with your loved ones cannot be emphasised enough as a key to overall balance and wellbeing.
Part Two: Dealing with Constructive Criticism
Tip 4 Take action
By preparing your mindset to deal skilfully with criticism, you’ve already understood the importance of hearing what is being said and analysing it carefully (sometimes even despite a clumsy delivery of the message). Furthermore, your willingness to undergo some self-examination has opened the door to self-improvement, since you are prepared to acknowledge truth where you find it. The next step is to decide how you are going to work on the process of making lasting changes for the better.
If you have heard a message that has prompted you to turn an issue around, write down your long-term goals and the timescales by which you wish to achieve them, then break each one down into a series of manageable steps, again giving yourself a set timescale for each stage of your action plan. Make a diary note to review how you are doing regularly and plan to reward yourself each time you are able to acknowledge the improvements you have made. Keep reminding yourself that this process is raising your awareness level so well that you’ll soon be entirely on top of the situation!
Tip 5 Practice gratitude
Congratulations! You have taken a mature and pro-active approach to dealing with constructive criticism and taking responsibility for making improvements that will stand you in good stead in the long term. Now – is it really possible to resent the initial criticism at this stage, even if it did sting at first? With hindsight, wouldn’t it be a little easier to actually thank the person who gave you the constructive criticism, if it was intended to be helpful and honest? If you don’t feel able to do so straight away, you can always review this at any stage in the process and see how you feel about it. If you have become better in your personal or professional life, you can afford to show generosity of spirit – and if you are committed to becoming the best person you can be – well, next time the initial comment is unlikely to hurt so much…
Part Three: Dealing with Destructive Criticism
Tip 6 Refuse to swallow it whole!
OK, so if you have scrutinised a piece of criticism honestly and you are certain that it was way off the mark and only intended to hurt, then the important thing to remember is that it can only hurt you if you allow that to happen, for if you’re completely secure in your own self-worth, it leaves no room for taking spiteful words as truth. That said, it does take effort and conscious awareness to be able to ignore this kind of criticism totally. If you can value the experience as a learning curve each time it happens, it will get easier to rise above it and you will be able to view each situation as a useful step in consolidating your own personal strength. The truth is, the best response is to continue pursuing your own passions in life – from this perspective, the criticism and how you deal with it are simply steps toward success.
Tip 7 Think about the underlying motive
If the criticism came just as you were enjoying some career success, a positive life change, or a happy event in your personal life, it’s possible that the speaker was expressing jealousy. If the person levelling the criticism is going through a challenging life stage, they could even be lashing out indiscriminately (– and likely to regret it later, too). When you consider things from this perspective, is it really worth holding onto other peoples’ negative emotions?
Tip 8 Hold your head high
Remember, your time and energy are valuable – make sure you use them well! Ensure that your friendships are the positive, nurturing kind, in fact, that anyone you invite into your personal life has your best interests at heart and the personal qualities you admire – you deserve it! If you’re happy with your working life, then continue refining your skills and gaining experience in your role. (If you need a change or would like to stretch yourself, see my previously published tips on coping with life changes.) Above all, keep enjoying your life and keep loving yourself for who you are. You have far better things to focus on than other peoples’ moments of mean spiritedness – true confidence comes from being happy with yourself and that is always within your own control. And finally – remember that forgiveness is the quickest way to transmute the energy of that old situation – and guaranteed to keep your own sparkle alive and well!