18 Jun How well do you really handle criticism?
Criticism can feel like a punch to the stomach. No-one likes being criticised, but it’s nearly impossible to go through life without being on the receiving end of negative feedback. So how do you handle it? For most people, it’s difficult not to feel offended and defensive. Some might handle it better than others, but it’s human nature to be hurt when you’re faced with your own flaws and shortcomings.
Our brains are actually wired to dwell on the negative – studies show that we have a negativity bias – we spend more time processing the bad than the good. Criticism has more of an impact than praise, and sticks with you for much longer. And with your brain devoting so much energy to negative feedback, your ability to overcome it can be severely impaired. Unfortunately, we all need critique to learn, improve, and grow as a person. So, here are some tips to help you respond to criticism more effectively in the future…
Don’t take it personally
In the words of Hillary Clinton, “It is important to learn how to take criticism seriously but not personally.” Wise words, but they’re hard to remember in the heat of the moment when your self-esteem is taking a knock. The thing is, you have to learn to separate your work from your self-worth. Most of the time, criticism is not meant to be a personal attack – it’s not about who you are as a person; it’s about something you did (your work or behaviour).
If your boss asks you to redo a report, it’s a criticism of the report itself – not a criticism of you. The trick is to try to remove feelings from the equation. Don’t attribute more meaning to negative feedback than is really there. We all make mistakes – own up to the shortcomings of the object under criticism, and commit to correcting them.
Evaluate the criticizer as well as the criticism
Not all criticism is worth considering, and it’s up to you how much authority you want to give the criticiser. Evaluate whether the person offering up the criticism is someone you respect, or whose opinion you should respect (such as a boss or manager). If so, it might be worthwhile to listen to what they’re saying. It might not make it any easier to hear, but at least you know there’s a reason for the criticism and it’s likely meant to be constructive.
Negativity from an anonymous critic (such as an internet troll) is definitely not worth taking to heart. And negativity from someone who only ever finds something to criticise is not worth your attention either. Also consider the nature of the criticism. If it’s in the form of an attack on your character, based on a lie, or targeting your self-worth, it has everything to do with the criticiser, and nothing to do with you. Remarks from a place of hostility should always be taken with a grain of salt, if at all.
Rather than making excuses or deflecting blame, ask questions. There is most likely some thought and reasoning that went into the criticism – ask why the work wasn’t great, and how you could improve for next time. This shows that you’re listening to their feedback, and trying to understand it. The answers to your questions might also help you see the other person’s point of view.
Cut the criticiser some slack
This may sound improbable, but not many people are actually skilled at giving feedback, and some find it downright difficult. Your criticiser might have good intentions, but a bad delivery. If they’re unaware that their criticism is not constructive, you might need to ask questions to guide them towards more effective means of communicating. Some people might be just as uncomfortable delivering the criticism as you are receiving it – very few people take pleasure in delivering bad news. Acknowledging that you’re both uncomfortable can help to ease the tension.
See it as a learning opportunity
All criticism can be a learning experience if you’re open to it. If you approach it with the mindset of seeking improvement, there will always be some takeaway which you can use to learn and grow. You may not enjoy the criticism, but that’s not to say there isn’t some truth to it. Focus on the reasonable requests and the constructive feedback which gives you an opportunity to do better.
The first step in overcoming your shortcomings is to acknowledge that they exist. No-one is perfect, and we all have something to work on. Treat every criticism as a learning opportunity, and you’ll find that it becomes easier to handle.