3 ways how to better take criticism

3 ways how to better take criticism

Most people dread criticism and will avoid it at all costs. But by doing so you miss out on a unique opportunity to improve.

Becoming better at accepting criticism is important. It brings us less emotional pain in life, it helps us improve and it makes us able to be around family, friends and colleagues without fear of it.

Here are 3 ways to improve:

  • Understand the mechanics of criticism – it’s not about you
  • Empathize with the criticiser
  • See it as an opportunity to improve
  • (Including a bonus and a P.S.)

 

1) Understand the mechanics of criticism – it’s not about you

Criticism, in itself, is not negative. It’s another person’s way of telling you they disapprove of what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it. But you see it as something different. To you it FEELS negative, unpleasant.

 

Criticism, in itself, is not negative.

 

The other person says: I disapprove of this action, and you hear: I disapprove of you as a person, and I don’t appreciate your worth.

It’s important to understand that it’s not an attack on your person. And even in the off-chance it is, remember: Criticism is ANOTHER person’s PERCEPTION of how to improve the situation (and usually just from their own perspective). They don’t necessarily speak the truth, they only speak their mind.

And giving criticism isn’t easy neither.

We all desperately want to be nice to each other, so everybody hates giving criticism. Because we hurt people with it. Ironically, that’s why critique sometimes comes out harsher than we mean it… which hurts people.

It doesn’t feel natural to be openly critical of others, so we wait until we’re so frustrated it almost explodes from within us. That’s why it often feels like an attack.

But that says more about the criticiser than it does about you.

 

Another aspect of understanding the mechanics of criticism is by understanding your own reaction to it.

Even if you logically understand the criticism was appropriate, your ego goes on red alert and prepares its defences. You want to handle this situation with dignity and clarity, but your ego is in full battle mode. It’s ready to fight for every inch of your self-understanding.

Here it’s important to understand that you ARE good enough, but that doesn’t mean you cannot and should not improve. You need to manage your ego and accept there might be some truth to the criticism.

Ego is an obstacle, and your avoidance of criticism is not about the criticism itself, but about how you receive it. About if it makes your ego feel threatened.

 

Ego is an obstacle…

 

Example: “You’re a great roommate but you could be amazing, and it would make my day so much better, if you improved on cleaning the kitchen”

You might even feel good about that criticism and motivated to change. Whereas: “I woke up this morning and the kitchen looked like shit! Again! Clean more!” only motivates you to further avoid criticism.

It’s about how your ego understands what’s said. If it feels attacked it will defend itself no matter how appropriate the criticism was.

“You’re great at X but you could be amazing if you did Y and Z.” works its way around the ego, whereas “You didn’t do Y and Z! Be better!” makes it an attack.

But you see, they both mean the same thing, they’re just worded differently.

We use words to convey meaning, but we’re awful at it. We mean one thing and end up saying another.

Often, the unpleasantry of criticism is because of poor communication.

 

Often, the unpleasantry of criticism is because of poor communication.

 

Criticism is not bad. The only reason you feel it is, is because people are bad at giving it, and your ego stops you from seeing it that way. Have patience with people who criticise you, and teach them how to give criticism in a way you can accept.

And understand that it’s not about you as a person, it’s about other people’s perception of an action.

 

2) Empathize with the criticiser

Building on the point above: another way is to understand where the criticism is coming from and what it really means, by putting yourself in the shoes of the person criticizing you.

“Pick up your damn socks! You’re 30 years old, how hard can it be?” does not mean the criticiser doubts your ability to pick up your socks.

What he/she is saying, hidden behind the frustration, is: “I’m tired of cleaning up after you and it pains me you don’t improve on it, since it’s clearly so important to me. It makes me feel like I’m not appreciated, which makes me sad and angry and I’m now taking that out on you”.

The first sentence would make most of us defensive and upset, whereas the second sentence would make most of us understand and improve. Like above, it’s all about communication. The difference here is that you actively try to cut through the clutter of words and decipher what the critique is actually about.

That was a radical (although for some far too familiar) example, but the mechanics work for all shapes of criticism. Understanding the source of the criticism often deflates it and brings clarity to what it’s about.

 

Understanding the source of the criticism often deflates it and brings clarity to what it’s about.

 

Quick tip: It goes both ways, so next time you’re the one criticising, you can get further by analysing what bothers you. A deep breath before venting out frustration is also well advised.

 

3) See it as an opportunity to improve

The third way is to change your mindset from “criticism is hurtful” to “criticism is an opportunity to improve”.

Did you ever hear you should give constructive criticism instead of negative? This is similar, only instead of being constructive when you give criticism, you use it constructively when you RECEIVE it.

Because when we’re given criticism it does show how people think we should improve. If you sense some consensus, there might be some truth to the matter. So why not use that critique to guide your improvement?

Every time I write a blogpost I dread showing it to other people. I hate even the slightest notion of criticism but I also understand that without it the quality of my work won’t improve.

If I tell myself that everything I do is great, and the world is wrong(!), the quality of my work would plummet, or at best, stay the same. We NEED critique to become better – to show us the areas where we can improve.

Criticism has its place. It truly is a resource but you have to set aside your ego to see it and use it.

 

It truly is a resource but you have to set aside your ego to see it and use it.

 

Don’t let negative emotions get in your way of personal progress. Turn criticism from something unpleasant into something constructive, and you will welcome it like the Sun on a winter’s day.

 

Bonus

I’ll finish with a piece of advice given to me by my old lieutenant, when I was a recruit in the Army:

“This is the Army and even if you’re not at fault, people WILL yell at you. There’s no way around it. So, the best course of action is simply to let them yell. Take what you can use from that experience and forget the rest.”

In other words: take control of what you can of the situation and make the most of it. Criticism WILL come no matter if you ask for it or not. The best you can do is to let it come, take what you can use and forget the rest.

 

In conclusion: criticism, in itself, is not negative. In fact, it can be a great resource to show areas where you could improve.

The reason we feel it’s negative or unpleasant is often because of the shape it comes in. If we can rise above that and set aside our defensive egos, we might be able to stop avoiding it and start welcoming it.

 

Most people feel like criticism is unpleasant and some people cannot handle it at all. If you know someone who struggles, share this post with them and let them know they can become more comfortable with it.

 

P.S.

If you often encounter criticism that is downright malicious these techniques might not work. The best course of action could be to avoid the people who speak ill to you. They are cancerous elements in your life, and no matter how hard it is, it’s important that you either remove them or change them. They will drag you down.


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