“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill
Criticism and confrontational situations arise everyday. You may not be able to avoid other people’s criticism of you, but you always have a choice as how to respond to those. There are times when you feel that almost everyone is against you and our balance of temper depends upon others, just as others depend on us. Such situations cause uneasiness. This is natural because of our expectations and we feel hurt and start brooding about the criticism we face.
Criticism if not handled properly can really create stressful and unpleasant working environment. Being criticised causes most of us to feel poorly about ourselves and can lower our self-esteem and productivity as we devote more time and energy dealing with it and are less focused on important things.
According to science, there are two portions of our brain that dictate how we emotionally process and respond to criticism. The amygdala plays a huge role in our fight or flight response, which is why negative reviews or feedback from others make us feel truly threatening and create a negative bias. Unpleasant remarks and experiences stick with us so much more than the pleasant ones.
When faced with criticism, not everyone deals with it in the same way. There isn’t one size fits all responses. Some instantly know its not personal, some get defensive, some may feel completely crushed by even the most minimal feedback. Here are some ways people deal with the negative feedback.
• Some people seem to accept criticism rather well on the surface while mentally they put themselves down by being overly hard on themselves.
• Some of them take negative feedback very personally. However, they deflect the blame back on others by challenging or arguing against as a means of convincing themselves that criticism is unjust.
• Some feel put down by the negative remarks, but they aren’t beating themselves up and aren’t deflecting blame onto the person giving them. They simply want to know the reason and what they could do to change critic’s mind.
• Some choose to defend themselves against criticism and exhibit a defensive reaction to negative feedback. However, they don’t argue and they likely think that their critic is somewhat misguided and are fine to leave it at that.
• Some get sensitive to negative feedback and tend to turn that into anger or feelings of inadequacy and react in way to quickly seek validation from others.
Feeling bad about being criticised is totally natural and unavoidable, but allowing it to effect our productivity and happiness can be often detrimental. We are not well equipped to handle negative feedback positively and fail often to deal with it smartly. However, criticism, if you learn to face it openly and learn to handle it in a more positive and constructive manner, can be a pathway to your progress and improvement.
Managing negative feedback constructively creates better interpersonal relationships and can grow your leadership effectiveness. Here are certain ways to turn criticism into constructive tool for your individual success and not to let it affect you negatively.
Do not ‘defend’ yourself
When we are criticised, our most common instinct is to defend ourselves. Resist proving yourself right every time and focus on what is going on. Address it with curiosity and not as accusation. Even when you disagree, listen to what the other person has to say and think it over. Resist the urge to focus on the minor elements of what’s being said and instead focus on the major implication of the criticism.
There may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the issue in larger perspective. Getting defensive takes away your emotional control and limits your ability to respond thoughtfully.
Know your ‘negative self’
Critical comments about yourself can activate a deeply held negative beliefs and your insecurities. You tend to overreact because it activates your negative belief as you are sensitive to that particular issue. Criticism may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity. By becoming familiar about them can help you overcome these feelings that gets triggered.
Don’t take it personally
Many of us take criticism more personally than we should. It is essential to separate criticism from your sense of self. Learn not to view it as about who you are as a person, but rather as feedback about an individual action or a particular situation. Always learn to look at the context from an objective stand.
The disagreements you have with others is often due to different views and perceptions. If you can learn to view it as feedback about something you did and not about who you are, you will be able to take it less personally and can respond accordingly.
Go to the ‘source’
Identify the source that triggered the criticism or try to have a conversation with the person criticising. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to criticising others unreasonably, or being egotistical, or has unpredictable behavioural-pattern, then you need not take their feedback seriously.
However, if the person delivering criticism is stable, supportive and trustworthy, take stock of the criticism and explore it further. Try to have a conversation and get to the bottom of it. Getting to the source keeps you in proper perspective.
It can be very unpleasant when someone finds fault with you. But If you react emotionally to what’s been said, or if you go into fight mode, it only takes you out of your rational behaviour and it is better not to respond. Take a step back emotionally so that you can respond calmly and use simple response to acknowledge that you have heard their opinion. Take few minutes out and breathe in a relaxed way to bring down your stress response so that you can respond calmly.
Look for the ‘positive’
Always look at what you can learn from the situation. If there’s anything the situation is helping you to learn or is it in anyway serving as an opportunity for your growth. Sometimes it might help you to learn the need to be more resilient or patient or to learn to stand up for yourself or to take responsibility for the behaviours you have that invited criticism from others. Be focused on the positive aspects of the situation.
Strengthen your positive ‘self’
Agree with any valid part of the criticism that is true. If there are elements that are not true, state your differences. If you are brought down by someone else’s unjust criticism, consider working on your self-esteem, try to reduce your interaction with someone who regularly criticises you. If it is someone whom you can’t avoid, try being more matter of fact with them, or, ideally, withdraw your need for their approval or validation.
Say ‘No’ to negative self-talk
Negative self-talk can be damaging to your self-esteem and can become a biggest bully. Don’t let your inner critic demean you and lower your self-worth. Ask yourself the question: would you put up with a person saying negative things about you? If you wouldn’t tolerate that tone from someone, then why put up with from yourself? Get positive perspective of you as a person or your achievements and focus on them when your inner critic tries to break you down.
If you get into disagreements or confrontational situations, don’t engage in too much talk or debate. Try to exit from the situation with ease. Know when to quit the conversation. Adopt strategies that regulate your emotions before negativity takes you over. Develop an ability to put away the unpleasant experience and get on with new approach, in other words, have the ability to bounce back and explain your stance or take on that particular issue later.
Straighten your own attitudes
When you feel or think that you are off the target with someone or you think that he or she disapproves of you, there may be nothing wrong with you. It could be the other person is simply drawing upon his or her own past experiences or even highly suspicious of others in his or her dealings with others. Understand person’s motivation for being unfairly critical. Is he stressed? Insecure? Unhappy to change?In such cases, attitude to your own self is important. If you feel someone’s criticism of you is unfair, don’t be afraid to say so. Be irrespective of others’ unjust criticism. Even though you’re the target, it is more often about them than you. Try to view it in broader perspective.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions to those who criticise you will not only make their feedback valuable, but also allows you to learn more about why they viewed the action or the situation the way they did. Asking open-ended questions like “Tell me more…,” “what is the impact of that?” Asking a series of ‘why?’ questions is the best way to know their perspective and makes you better equipped to handle the situation in future. You can facilitate a more open conversation with your critic and can end the conversation on good terms.
Finally, pay attention to the criticism you face. Take action in order to improve yourself if the criticism is because of your faults and weaknesses. View it as learning opportunity. Instead of feeling bad about your mistakes and any criticism that may have resulted from them, accept them and view them objectively. This way, you will be better prepared to deal with similar situations in the future.
The next time you come across criticism, remember what you learned and take a suitable approach, don’t let anger get in the way. Respond in cool, calm and reasonable manner. Trust your instinct, if its something worth fighting for. Be assertive and firm, but don’t be demanding or aggressive. If the criticism has resulted because of your mistakes, learn from them and move on.