Handling Criticism Like A Pro

Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, would have faced criticism in one form or the other (except of course if we’ve chosen to shut ourselves up in a room and not attempt anything at all in life). It might be about anything – about what you have said or done or not done or the way you dress or about your work, the list just goes on. Criticism pops up everywhere. It’s as much a part and parcel of our lives as the air we breathe, and hence learning how to deal with it gracefully is an important life skill to have.

Is Criticism good for you ?

Criticism, wrapped up and delivered even in the best of the packaging, is not something that anybody actually enjoys. The instant reaction to it in most cases is to close ourselves up and get into defensive mode. So identifying whether it’s constructive or destructive is a key step that’ll help you in figuring out whether it’s good or bad for you.

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So, what exactly is Constructive and Destructive criticism ?

Constructive Criticism is a way of giving feedback with an intention of helping you improve yourself. It not just points out your mistakes and weaknesses, but also includes suggestions for improvement and the actions that need to be taken. It can be considered as that much needed reality check which we all need from time to time. 

Destructive Criticism on the other hand is given with the sole intention of tearing you down. The reasons for doing that may be many – jealousy, insecurities, ignorance, complexes, boredom etc. Here, instead of commenting on the actions of a person, the focus mainly is on attacking the person and pulling him down. The critic in this case, is not in the least interested in your well being or improvement.

So, as you might have figured out by now, constructive criticism more often than not, represents an opportunity. It helps you in identifying your weaknesses, which you might otherwise be unaware of and enables you to see things from a different perspective. Whereas destructive criticism is more or less an attempt by a person to let his steam off at the expense of others. 

How do you identify them ?

Honestly, when you are out there at the receiving end, identifying whether it’s constructive or destructive would probably be the last thing on your mind. But before you pounce on your critic, just pause and take a deep breath. Wait, what ? Yes you read it right. Pause and take a deep breath (Remember, deep breath not an annoyed sigh ! You don’t want to worsen the situation, do you ?) Let the emotions flow through you. Do not restrict it but also do not take it out on the other person.It’s not easy but it’s definitely doable. If you find it hard to refrain yourself from blowing a fuse, excuse yourself and take some time out before responding. Setting your emotions aside and getting into a frame of mind where you are calm enough to analyse the situation rationally, is the most difficult but important step to take, while facing criticism. 

Once you have calmed yourself down, listen to the other person without interrupting. By listening, I meant active listening and not just nodding along while thinking about ways on how to attack the critic back. Allow the other person to share their thoughts and comments completely. While listening, focus on the content of the comment and not on the tone. Sometimes even the best intended criticisms may sound harsh or even worse, the most toxic comments may be presented in the most tactful manner. So it’s very important that you detach the content from the tone.

At this point, you can try and  repeat back what you have heard and understood. Be careful to do that in a non aggressive tone. By repeating back, you are not only making sure that you aren’t misinterpreting their comments, but also helping yourself understand the comment better. When you take a step back and remove yourself from the equation and focus just on the comment, chances are that you may be able to view it through a different lens. At this stage, by analysing it objectively, you will be able to figure out the intention behind it – whether you are actually being attacked or is it just your ego playing tricks on you.

If you are still confused, seek clarification. Break it down and  ask questions. When you are asking questions, do it with an open mind and not with an intention to prove the other person wrong. You can ask for specific examples to get better clarity on the issue raised or ask for suggestions on how the situation could have been handled differently. Be genuinely curious in finding the intention. If the critic actually means well, he’ll be able to give you answers or suggestions or atleast give you valid and logical reasons to back his comment, which might help you to see things from the critic’s perspective. Destructive criticism shatters under scrutiny – no logic, no reasons, nothing but just a set of toxic statements thrown at you with the sole intention of hurting your self-esteem and  pulling you down.

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How to deal with criticism ?

So now that you have calmly analysed the issue and identified whether the criticism was meant to help you or to tear you down, it’s time to take action. 

Okay, but before that, you may now take a moment to appreciate yourself for successfully pulling off the I-Can-Be-Calm-No-Matter-What version of you. A little bit of self appreciation always helps to put that vulnerable little child inside you in a better mood. 

Alright, now that you are slightly in a better mood, let’s get to business. Let’s say you have identified the criticism to be toxic, what do you think you should do next ?  Tell them that their points are baseless ? Make them understand that you are right and argue until you prove your point ? Or give them a taste of their own medicine and criticise them ? Well, the best course of action here would be to ignore. Ignore ? Seriously? But how can you just walk away when somebody is attacking you and challenging your self worth?   

Well, it might sound all philosophical and seem like something that only people roaming about with a halo around their heads can do. But trust me, it is the most logical thing to do,  given such a situation. Think about it, here is a person who is trying to derogate and destroy your self-esteem, confidence and reputation using some baseless and illogical set of arguments. Do you think if that person was logical enough he would have stooped to this level ? No matter what you do, understand that he has come with a closed mindset and a fixed agenda, that is,to insult you. Nothing you say or do is going to knock sense into that person’s head. And moreover it’s not even your responsibility to do that.There’s no point in wasting your time and energy on such people, so just let it go. Politely excuse yourself, thank the person for the feedback and move on with your life. 

Now, let’s come to constructive criticism. When you receive it, ask yourself Does this align with my priorities ?For example, you might be criticised for not making that perfect pasta or for being lousy at tennis. Ask yourself, does it really matter ? Is this really a priority in your life ? Well, depending upon your goals, it might or might not be. In any case it is important that you identify that. And if the suggestion doesn’t align with your priorities, even though it is constructive, there is no point investing too much of your time in it. So, take note of it and ask for suggestions on how to improve, if you feel a need for that and move on.And hey, don’t forget to thank your critic !

Now, what if it aligns with your priorities ? Then set your ego aside and  ask yourself – ‘Deep down, do I agree with what is being said ?’  If you can’t bring yourself to agree to it, respectfully disagree. Present your side of the story. Engage in a constructive discussion.Chances are that when you do it, the other person may understand your perspective or vice-versa.Either way it’s a win-win. However, there are chances that you both might not come to a conclusion at all. Accept the fact that everyone is entitled to have their own opinions and perspectives and it’s perfectly okay not to be on the same page always. So just agree to disagree and peacefully move on.

Finally, let’s say that the little voice inside your head secretly agrees to all the charges that you are accused of. In that case, buckle up, it’s time for action. If you find that there is truth in what the other person has said, then do not shy away from acknowledging it. Analyse the comment, deconstruct it and figure out what needs to be addressed and what measures need to be taken to learn and evolve from your mistakes. You may even take suggestions from your critic on the steps that need to be taken. Accepting your mistakes and learning from them is a great way to kick-start your journey of self improvement. 

Bottom Line

Criticism comes in all shapes and forms. Neither can you avoid it nor can you control the way others perceive you. The only thing you have control over is your attitude towards it and the way you choose to respond to it. It is important that you identify the intent behind it and take action accordingly. And depending on it, you can either use the criticism as a foundation to build a better future for yourself or choose to ignore it if it’s not worthy of your time and energy. Having said that, I also want you to know that developing a positive attitude towards criticism is not something that comes easy. It takes time, patience and hell a lot of practice. So be gentle with yourself; take it one step at a time. And while you are at it, don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest of your milestones. Good Luck !