Criticism, and how to handle it
Everyone will face criticism at some point in their lives. We might try to avoid it because it can feel uncomfortable, unpleasant and often quite personal, but Elbert Hubbard once wrote “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing, and you’ll never be criticized.”
In fact, not only is criticism a possibility any time we do or say anything, if delivered and taken in the right way, constructive criticism can be a gift. No one is perfect and so constructive criticism can be a helpful mechanism by which we can fill the gaps in our knowledge, skills and experience – to help us learn, grow and improve.
The important thing when receiving criticism is, therefore, how to handle it.
Here are some tips to help respond effectively to criticism:
If you tend to become angry or defensive when faced with criticism, you are much less likely to be able to listen and understand what’s being said. The more emotional we are, the more limited our thinking becomes, and the more questionable our reactions are. Try taking a few deep breaths and pause before responding. If your anger or emotion doesn’t abate, it may be helpful to take some time out until you can approach things more calmly. Ask if you can reschedule the conversation for another time.
It can feel very uncomfortable to hear criticism and you may feel like withdrawing and dismissing what the other person is saying, but try your best to remain objective and open to their comments and feedback and avoid interrupting them. By really listening to what they say, you give yourself the best chance to understand the criticism and you’re much less likely to misinterpret it or jump to the wrong conclusions. Remember it may have taken courage for the person to approach you with the feedback.
It’s important to assess if the criticism has any truth.
Ask yourself do you know this person? Do you trust them and trust that they have your best interests at heart?
Whilst criticism might hurt more coming from someone you trust, they are likely to know you well and be less likely to want to criticise you for no good reason and so you may be more open to their comments than someone who doesn’t know you well.
Some people are, by their nature, very critical about everything and you may want to take their criticism with a pinch of salt.
Others may be critical out of maliciousness and there may be no basis for their criticism whatsoever: if they’re being deliberately destructive and goading you into a fight, you may wish to consider if the criticism has any weight at all.
Don’t be tempted to criticise back
You will miss an opportunity to learn and improve if you react defensively. Answering criticism with another criticism is not usually helpful. Even if you are offended and feel the critic is at fault, criticising them is likely just to inflame the situation and cause it to escalate.
Come to a resolution
Once you’ve received and understood the criticism, and you have assessed that it is genuine and constructive, seek to address any issues or concerns that have been raised. This might mean explaining a misunderstanding, acknowledging you made a mistake and apologising, or accepting the criticism is valid and resolving to make necessary changes and improvements in the future.
If, on the other hand, you don’t believe the criticism is deserved or you feel it is destructive, end the conversation politely and take time out to reflect. You may want to speak to others who know you well and whose opinion you value, to sound out the feedback and whether there is any truth to it.
Learning from mistakes and experience
Whilst not all feedback and criticism will be well founded, it’s important to recognise that you cannot learn anything new without practicing, making mistakes and sometimes failing. Viewing these experiences and any constructive criticism that comes with them as an opportunity can help you to avoid taking the criticism too personally and enable you to respond positively and to take action.