The Big C: How to Deal with Criticism from Others

Receiving criticism from others can be a difficult pill to swallow. This especially so, if the person giving the criticism does it without even trying to hide about it, or they did it without knowing that it is a criticism flying into you face. The first thing we normally do, is to react to it by refuting the untruth in it, even if it is a small point. Some people may say that people should be educated to give criticism in a subtle and constructive way and avoid negative, even abusive words. Yes, ideally, that would be the way. Some people I deal with, does it beautifully, others failed miserably. So, in this imperfect world, there are imperfect people overseeing imperfect people. Now, let’s see how to manage criticism more effectively.

First things first – who is that person?

When criticised, what we should do instead is to objectively assess whether or not the person who criticised you is someone whom you value, especially their thoughts and opinion. If the person is your boss (and he/she may not be always right), then maybe you would like to take their criticism some thoughts. Why? Perhaps to improve at work, strike a balance in the communication between you and him/her, and be perhaps be more successful in future. If the person is the kind of person giving their criticisms just speak their mind without second thoughts, then perhaps you could give their words less weight.

Criticisms are not bad things. If justified and true, they are the very things that will help you become a better person. It’s tough. But hey, who said bitter medicine will taste very good in your mouth ? So let’s take a look that how we can turn things around by taking in learning points from these criticisms (or should I call it learning points?):

Be objective about it, remove the emotion from the encounter

It’s difficult to tear yourself from the situation, let alone be very objective about the incident. However, that is exactly what we need to do. Look at it without any emotions, and ask yourself: Is it true? Is it a fact? Are there evidence of it being true? If being objective is challenging, then maybe you want to take a different perspective, perhaps, as a third person, and see it from a “passerby” perspective. If there are truth in it, then these are nuggets of truth for us to grow in our character and become a better person.

Filter the criticism, what is true, what is not true

Sometimes not all the parts of the criticism is correct, or truthful. For example, “you are always late”, maybe seemed like a unreasonable criticism, but looking into it, you may want to filter out the “always”, but look at the “late” part of the sentence.  Perhaps there are more truth in “late” than “always”. So work on the “late” part. The criticism could arise out of an observation that had been a blind spot for you. Once you have filtered out the “late” part, work on it. Leave early to arrive on time, or even before time.

Analyse the filtered keywords of the truth

Look at what was collected, filtered and left over. These nuggets of “golden truth” are the very thing that you could refine and act on to be a better person. Remember, you have filtered out the words, so they are containing truth – no arguments about that. So look at it, tell yourself, it’s true, so what am I going to do about it?

Set targets and overcome them – to be a stronger person

From the “truth” keywords, give yourself a chance to improve. Set targets. They should be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. So, for example – your frequent lateness is getting on the nerves of your spouse. So the target should be: I will arrive for dates and meetings with my spouse 10 minutes before the meeting time. I will leave home/office 30 minutes earlier than I normally would to ensure there are ample time for any delays along the way.

It’s all in the head, my friend 

We know. We have been there, and done that. We are human. We feel something when others say negative thing about us. Rather than feeling miserable and angry, try changing perspective. Someone once say, “Change your Perspective, Change your Life”. It’s true. Try to see criticisms as something life changing, something to be thankful about. Think about it, we would rather have someone tell us about ourselves that we did not know or choose to ignore, and change for the better – than to be oblivious to our shortcomings, and never become the better and more excellent person we can truly be. There is a diamond in all of us, but only intense heat and pressure can turn our current “coal-like” character into the shining diamond – the eventual you. If it does not hurt – if there is no pain generated, our change for the better will not happen. So be thankful there is hurt and pain, for only then can we find the need to change.

Ask for it! Warning: For advanced practitioners 🙂

This may sound a little crazy for those who are especially criticism-averse, but once we have mastered how to manage criticism and convert them into opportunities for strength – you can begin to ask for inputs and comments on how to be a better worker/spouse/child/parent etc. Ask those who you can trust to deliver valuable inputs and observations about you, and are able to give clear pointers on how you can be better.

Ending Thoughts

We all learn. Tim Harford (the guy who wrote “The Undercover Economist“, in his book entited “Why Success Always Starts with Failure“, talks about learning and adapting from our failures/weakness, so that we can succeed. Only with such an attitude, that we can turn failure into success, and most importantly survive and prosper.

P.S. For those who are giving out criticism, perhaps a good way is to use the sandwich method: first start with the good, then go on to the not so good, and then end with more good. It should go down better. =D


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