How to Deal With Criticism and Stay Positive…
Let me commence this article with an observation about criticism in general.
Being able to receive and respond to criticism in a mature and professional manner is very difficult for so many people. Lets face it, when we are being told that we are failing in some capacity, it’s hard not to take offence on a personal level. But, if you can learn to control your emotions then you will be making a big step towards mastering a very important life skill.
The first thing to keep in mind is that (most of the time) criticism is coming from one person. That means its just one person’s point of view. Listen to what is being said and then decide if its constructive and encouraging criticism, or whether its just purely negative. Who is the person giving the criticism? Should you be respecting their viewpoint?
This article is going to have two main parts. Firstly we need to understand how to identify and differentiate between Constructive and Deconstructive Criticism. And how we should respond appropriately in each situation. Secondly we will look at some of the benefits of criticism and ways in which we can learn and grow from these experiences.
This is usually very easy to identify because it will contain a fair amount of thoughtful feedback. Ideas and suggestions will be free flowing and you should instinctively feel that the other person has you best interests at heart. If this is the essence of the conversation you should feel energized and motivated in whatever changes are necessary. No bruised egos!
This is where we may struggle with how to respond effectively. There is no effort to encourage your improvement; no ideas for ‘next time’… just blame. It is important to note that within the Deconstructive type of criticism there will be 2 broad types that you will need to recognize and deal with differently.
1. The Tactless and Negligent Type of Critic. This is common in the work environment. Characterized by the manager whose social skills are less than adequate! There is no malicious intent to stomp all over your self-esteem, but it happens anyway because they are completely focused on the mistake and not your feelings. Do not try to offer excuses, as they will usually dismiss excuses as irrelevant.
These people need to be ‘pulled up’ and reminded they are dealing with a person. In many cases they can be retrained (with some effort). Remember to always remind them that their style, tone of voice etc is not appropriate and is unacceptable to you. I have seen situations where the critic was stunned. They don’t have a comeback because the subject has now changed to their management style. Often these types of critics will also be completely amazed to be told that their style is thoughtless and offensive!
2. The Malicious Critic. This is where life gets much more complicated. The malicious critic will often (but not always) have a hidden agenda with their criticism. They seek to harm others and will actively look for opportunities where they can draw attention to some mistake or error you may have made. These people are bullies.
I have seen some very clever bullies in the workplace. Some have planned their attack so well that they even pretend to offer seemingly caring suggestions to their victims to disguise their attack. This is only done when the criticism is performed in public, for the benefit of ‘witnesses’.
These sorts of critics (just like bullies) will look for weaknesses that they can exploit. They could be looking to point score; humiliate you publicly; get pleasure from seeing your discomfort; a whole range of reasons. The temptation is to respond in a rage; abuse them back! DON’T. Your task in this situation is to:
1. Stay calm and Control your emotions.
2. Deprive them of the satisfaction of seeing that they got to you and,
3. Decide on the most appropriate response.
You have a right to protect yourself from this unjustified behavior. Equally, you need to protect yourself from “humiliation” criticism that attacks your self-esteem and self-confidence. If you feel that you cannot stay calm and control your emotions then you should walk! Leave the room. Leave the meeting. Turn your back on the aggressor.
If you choose to stay and confront the malicious critic then you need to have a strategy. This is where your level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) will assist you in managing this situation. (For more on this subject read my article 7 Signs of Emotional Intelligence) Consider these steps;
1. Tell yourself that the person’s unjustified criticism is a reflection of THEIR issues. They are projecting their problems… they own them, not you!
2. Respond calmly. Tell them that you have listened to them and you don’t accept what they are saying. You are not going to listen to them anymore. That is enough.
3. Don’t get into a debate with these people, as you will not turn them around to your thinking. They don’t care about the TRUTH. They want your humiliation.
How do you know when you have won? When their criticism has not made you snap, they will then resort to ridicule and mockery… Time for you to Smile and walk away.
A Learning Experience
Have you ever heard the old saying, “If life gives you lemons, then learn to make lemonade”. It could almost have been made for this situation! There is always something to help you grow stronger emotionally, even in horrible situations. Lets look at a few of them.
1. Learn to look objectively at the criticism being thrown your way.
Is there a element of truth in it? Through the criticism we may have an opportunity to rethink something that needs to change. In this way, we are allowing ourselves to respond to the criticism, NOT the tone in which it was delivered. We must learn to detach ourselves from the Emotional part of the criticism.
2. Lose the habit of justifying yourself.
That is what children do so well; deny and / or deflect criticism. That’s OK for children, but we are adults. If someone has told you they don’t like performance, then don’t get defensive. Ask them to elaborate so that you can be clear about their opinion.
3. Don’t pass the Buck.
Just as you should not accept criticism that you know to be false, don’t deflect that onto other people. Some people make this trait an art form! They usually end up being losers in life, so please do not follow their habit.
4. Learn to invite criticism.
Emotionally intelligent people know that when everyone around you is agreeable and complimentary all the time, then something is wrong. They know that none of us are perfect and we could all improve in some areas. So, they develop the habit of inviting constructive criticism and then showing appreciation for the suggestions they receive.
5. Don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes.
You are meant to learn and grow through experience, and making mistakes is all a part of growing. Repeating the same mistakes is not a good thing. And that’s where listening to criticism can really be a valuable learning experience.
I hope that this article helps you to understand and deal with the criticism you may be experiencing a bit better. It’s a problem most people face at some point in their lives and careers. As I have tried to explain, it does not always have to be a negative experience. In fact if you can succeed to turn some of those lemons into lemonade, then you will definitely be growing into a more self confident, emotionally secure individual.