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Six Steps to Deal with Criticism

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Ever feel deflated after going through a critique with your boss? Do you feel personally assaulted when someone criticizes your work? Dealing with criticism can be difficult, but learning how to deal with it may be one of the most important skills you ever need. Being open to feedback improves communication in relationships and in the workplace.

In her book How to Deal with Criticism, Dr. Hendrie Weisenger says criticism is necessary because it tells us what is most important in our lives. In business, organizations grow or fall based on performance and task evaluations. In relationships, giving and taking criticism with a positive approach is the key to understanding preferences and helps you grow together. Research shows that the better you deal with criticism, the better off you’ll be.

Having trouble accepting criticism? Here are five steps to help you!

Don’t Take It Personally!
When criticized, you need to stay calm and not take it personally. Reacting emotionally will only make the situation worse. Behavioral research has shown emotional reactions are negative regardless of whether the criticism itself is good or bad.

Dr. Weisenger says this happens because people are emotional beings wired by their environment to think negatively of criticism. Society says self-confidence is always good and hard work alone should move us forward in our careers. This thinking preys on our status anxiety, grows our ego, and makes us resistant to change. If a writer’s editor says an article needs a tweak, the writer is bound to resist, even if it’s good advice. Relying on your emotions when confronted with criticism isn’t constructive.

You need to understand criticism often isn’t based on hard facts—critics have a subjective point of view, too. An artist can be criticized for innovation (“The painting is too weird!”) or for following conventions closely (“Ugh, it’s paint-by-numbers!”). Results don’t always matter either. A lawyer’s style can be criticized even if he wins all his cases. Everyone deals with criticism, no matter how smart, educated, successful, or talented they are.

Think of Criticism Positively
If we’re wired to think of criticism negatively, then a logical response is to change and start thinking of it positively. Think: “This is good for me!”

Criticism brings up new, unconsidered ideas. A buildup of new approaches to a problem can be crucial to finding solutions, especially in business. Companies that consider everyone’s opinions react faster and with more flexibility to change and are more successful in the long-term.

Criticism also alleviates the need to always be right. If you know constructive feedback leads to good solutions, you’ll suffer less anxiety and work to innovate.

Positive thinking also helps practice serenity. Remember, emotional reactions are no good and only take up time and energy. Say it with me: “Serenity now!”

Deconstruct the Criticism
The next step is to take apart criticism. Break it down in four steps: listen carefully, seek clarification, find intent, and identify truths.

First, listen and don’t say anything. Understanding a critic’s argument makes your mind go over your own work and how it’s constructed. It’s self-analysis. Focus on words they use and how they relate to the criticism. This teaches you objectivity.

Next, seek clarification through questions. In Power Communications, career expert Valerie Wiener says questions “should be aimed at turning the critic’s generalities into specifics and exposing the objective facts behind judgmental statements.” If a critic says you’re lazy, ask which specific behavior makes her think that. Avoid making this exchange into an interrogation drama of furrowed brows. Instead, think of it as an info-gathering friendly conversation. Asking questions and possessing a willingness to learn invites respect.

Third, find the critic’s motivation. Is it negatively or positively motivated, or rather, is it a personal attack or a constructive point? More often, it is constructive.

Fourth, identify truths. Find out which parts of the criticism will help you grow and which work best within your comfort zone. There are kernels of truth in every criticism, and it’s up to you to find them.

Understand the Critic
If you truly want to accept criticism, you need to understand where the critic is coming from.

Determine if he is qualified to criticize you. Are they educated and experienced enough to make the arguments they’re making? If they are, take the criticism seriously. If they are not, consider it also, but focus on the specifics. People who are not always qualified can still make good judgments.

Also, determine the critic’s motive. Is it a good motive (concern for accuracy, fondness for the subject) or a bad motive (jealousy, immaturity)? A lot of people criticize others to make excuses for their own faults. If there are bad motives, think about removing yourself from the situation but don’t forget the content—it may help you.

Incorporate and Embrace Thoughtfully
In The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: King Solomon’s Secrets to Success, Steve Scott says you can’t profit from understanding criticism until you fully embrace it.

Scott once wrote a commercial script his boss rejected because it needed “a hook” to appeal to viewers. Instead of sulking, Scott embraced the specific need as a challenge and came up with a funny hook that made millions. It urged him to embrace all criticisms with enthusiasm. Embracing criticism also made him tolerant of people’s opinions. The more constructive opinions you surround yourself with, he says, the better you’ll know how to deploy that knowledge.

Don’t Worry Too Much About It
Pay close attention to your reactions to criticism—it will show you what you need to improve. Do this: think of the last five criticisms that personally affected you. Write them down on paper and read through them right now. Were they so bad? Did you find one you thought was valid? If so, you most likely reacted emotionally and need to improve. If your boss said your work needs to improve and you took it as a neon-bright sign you’re an absolute failure in life, you were being irrational!

Challenge this type of thinking. It makes getting through life more difficult—after all, irrational thinking is automatic, not thoughtful, and accumulates to a snowball of negative thinking that leads you away from your obstacles. Face criticism to improve and be realistic about it, about yourself, and about people’s intentions.

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” —Aristotle

By Jose Garcia for Excelle


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