And yet, while criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralising, it can also be viewed in a positive way: it is honesty, and it can spur us to do better. It’s an opportunity to improve.
Stop Your First Reaction
If your first reaction is to lash back at the person giving the criticism, or to become defensive, take a minute before reacting at all. Take a deep breath, and give it a little thought.
Let a critical email sit in your inbox for at least an hour before replying. Or walk away from someone instead of saying something you’ll regret later.
That cooling off time allows you to give it a little more thought beyond your initial reaction. It allows logic to step in, past the emotion. Nothing against emotion, but when it’s a negative emotion, sometimes it can cause more harm than good. So, let emotions run their course, and then respond when calmer.
One of the keys to success in anything is the ability to find positives in things that most people see as a negative. Sickness forces you to stop your exercise program? That’s a welcome rest. Tired of your job? That’s a time to rediscover what’s important and to look for a better one.
You can do the same thing with criticism: find the positive in it. Sure, it may be rude and mean, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of gold: honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement.
For example, this criticism: “You write about the same things over and over and your blog is boring and stale.”
Can be read: “I need to increase the variety of my posts and find new ways of looking at old things.”
That’s just one example of course — you can do that with just about any criticism. Sometimes it’s just someone having a bad day, but many times there’s at least a grain of truth in the criticism.
See it as an opportunity to improve — and without that constant improvement, we are just sitting still. Improvement is a good thing.
Even if someone is harsh and rude, thank them. They might have been having a bad day, or maybe they’re just a negative person in general. But even so, your attitude of gratitude will probably catch them off-guard.
And even if the critic doesn’t take your “thank you” in a good way, it’s still good to do — for yourself. It’s a way of reminding yourself that the criticism was a good thing for you, a way of keeping yourself humble.
After seeing criticism in a positive light, and thanking the critic, don’t just move on and go back to business as usual. Actually, try to improve.
That’s a difficult concept for some people, because they often think that they’re right no matter what. But no one is always right. You, in fact, may be wrong, and the critic may be right. So see if there’s something you can change to make yourself better.
And then make that change. Actually strive to do better.
Too many times we take criticism as a personal attack, as an insult to who we are. But it’s not. Well, perhaps sometimes it is, but we don’t have to take it that way. Take it as a criticism of your actions, not your person. If you do that, you can detach yourself from the criticism emotionally and see what should be done.
But the way that many of us handle the criticisms that we see as personal attacks is by attacking back.
By attacking the attacker, you are stooping to their level. Even if the person was mean or rude, you don’t have to be the same way. You don’t have to commit the same sins.
- Others will admire you and think better of you for rising above the attack. Especially if you remain positive and actually take the criticism well.
- You will feel better about yourself. By participating in personal attacks, we dirty ourselves. But if we can stay above that level, we feel good about who we are. And that’s the most important benefit of all.
How do you stay above the attacks and be the better person? By removing yourself from the criticism, and looking only at the actions criticized. By seeing the positive in the criticism, and trying to improve. By thanking the critic. And by responding with a positive attitude.
So by ignoring the insults, taking it as an opportunity to clarify, thanking the critic, using the opportunity to explain your point further, and staying positive, you have accepted the criticism with grace and appreciation. And in doing so, remained the better person, and felt great about yourself.