To live and be part of a community at work, home or school means we are sometimes told truths we may not like to know or hear. We get labeled for our shortcomings and judged on our failures and mistakes. While the temptation to block out the unpleasant feedback is strong, we stunt our personal growth and potential by doing so. It’s terribly hard to be on the receiving end of disapprovals and negative appraisals but if we succeed in building our strengths and managing our weaknesses, the world can become our oyster. Below are four ways that helped me tremendously in dealing with criticism constructively. I hope they’ll help you too.
1. Take time to cool down, set boundaries and respond not react
Criticism, regardless of good or bad intention, can cut deep into our psyche. If it’s dished out in a conversation and the speaker is going overboard, set your boundaries by asking for a timeout. Explain that you heard what has been said but it is too much to digest at a go. Affirm that you would like to resume the discussion when you’re in a more receptive headspace about the subject. If the tough message is delivered via text or email, refrain from replying immediately. Take your eyes off those words, go for a walk, take a shower or do something else to refocus your thoughts on something more positive. Either case, after you’ve cooled down, strive to respond maturely instead of lashing back and trigger a vicious cycle of conflict.
2. Focus on the points, not the tone, labels and judgement
Ideally we wish everyone is a master in communication but reality can’t be further from that. Sometimes good advice can get lost in poor choice of words or harsh tones. Other times feedback delivered with malice can contain constructive points on areas of improvement. It’s important to focus on the ideas of the message, not the tone, labels, intention of the speaker and his/her judgement. To shift your attention away from the hurt feelings and avoid wasting life wallowing in self-pity, channel your thoughts on the constructive action that can be taken from there and get cracking.
3. Use it to fuel you, not bring you down
When “assaulted” by painful facts we don’t want to face, even if it was well-meaning, the best revenge is to use the pain to fuel us forward. It’s almost humanely impossible to feel immune to criticism, especially when they’re true. That said, we can use the hurt and feelings of rejection and unworthiness to motivate us to overcome those said flaws, achieve mastery over them and flourish in life despite them. Positive change is never easy and each time you feel like throwing in the towel, recall the terrible emotions you felt when being made aware of your limitations. Tell yourself that you want to keep going because you do not want to experience that sense of defeat again.
4. Understand where the speaker is coming from and shake it off wherever necessary
It’s important to understand the context behind which the opinions were formed. Well-meaning advice can come from someone with a different era, upbringing, values, priorities, aspiration and goals that are not suited to what we need or to the path we want to take. Take that into account, choose parts of the message that align with your own internal compass, and shake off the rest. Carefully toss the “irrelevant” points off in a far end of your mind but do not completely push them out of your system. Advice that feels unsuitable now might well be highly valuable when you are in a different frame of mind at a different age or life stage.
Which area of your life do you struggle the most to accept negative feedback? How do you cope with it? Share with us your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.