We all get criticized — that’s a fact of life — but most of us have a hard time accepting it. We want to believe that others understand and admire everything we do, or we’d at least prefer them not to point out our flaws. Whenever our actions or intentions get criticized, it’s hard not to respond by feeling defensive and angry. And yet to grow, we have to learn and the best way to learn is stay open to the feedback of others. To help you short-circuit your automatic anger when getting criticized, try to keep a few questions in mind.
What is the intention of the person giving the criticism?
People criticize for three main reasons. They may do so for their own benefit. This may be because they’re feeling angry or frustrated and they are attacking you to relieve their own discomfort. People may also criticize you because of a shared interest. It might be a customer or a co-worker who is giving you feedback in order to improve your interaction. They have something to gain by criticizing you, but so do you. Or they may be offering you criticism for your benefit alone. This type of feedback usually comes from family members or close friends who really care about you and want you to gain some important insight.
How valid is the criticism?
It’s important to understand the intentions of the person who is criticizing you — but this isn’t enough. You also have to look at the validity of what’s being said. Regardless of how selfish or unfair the other person might be, there may still be something of value in the criticism. Ask yourself, “Can I find some truth here?” If you console yourself by focusing on how unfair the other person is, you may be overlooking an opportunity to learn and grow. On the other hand, the other person could have your best intentions in mind but might lack some information or insight. Their criticism would then have little value. No matter what intentions exist behind the criticism, remember to look at what was said and see if you can take away something of value.
What is the right response to the criticism?
This is the most challenging question and it has the simplest answer. Regardless of the intentions behind the criticism and regardless of its validity, there’s only one way to respond. You say, “Thank you.”
This may well raise your hackles but think about it. If the critical person’s intentions were essentially good, regardless of what was said, you want to acknowledge the attempt to help you and you want to encourage more of it. If the intentions were unkind or unfair, the other person is looking to start some kind of conflict. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, try looking them in the eyes and saying sincerely, “I really appreciate you taking the time to provide me with feedback. I’ll look into this and see how I can improve.” You’ll subvert the conflict and you can then calmly consider the merits of their criticism.
EXERCISE OF THE WEEK
The next time you feel criticized, take it easy. Remember, you’re better than you think you are, so don’t get so offended. You’re being given an opportunity to learn.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Winston Churchill
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