Criticism can be hard to take—even when labeled “constructive.” Most people respond to criticism defensively, often denying their actions or behaviors with statements such as “I do not!” Others simply ignore the criticism and its potential value. Still others fall victim to criticism by focusing on their inadequacies and failures rather than on how the criticism provides potential for personal and professional growth.
Being able to accept criticism is a valuable skill that can result in improved job performance and better interpersonal relationships. These tips will help you learn how.
Picture this: Your boss wants to give you feedback on your latest report. Your heart races, you breathe more quickly and you begin to perspire. Your instinct is to “fight or flight,” rather than to listen. When under criticism, it’s hard to stay cool, calm and collected. Yet, doing so is essential to finding the value in the critic’s message.
Take a few deep breaths, tense and relax your muscles or repeat phrases to yourself such as “calm down” or “take it easy.” Then remind yourself of criticism’s positive potential.
You can prevent your emotions from taking control by practicing the way you handle criticism. Visualize yourself meeting with your boss, for example. How does your body respond? What relaxation techniques do you use and what do you say? By mentally rehearsing for such an exchange, you will develop the confidence needed to deal with criticism effectively.
Focus on the criticism, not the critic
You may not like the critic, but the criticism may have great worth. By focusing on the criticism itself, you will avoid the emotional response so often triggered by feelings of animosity, resentment or dislike for the critic. You also will avoid hurt feelings, especially when the critical message comes from a friend or family member.
Remember that criticism is a matter of opinion
People who respond defensively to criticism often do so because they view the criticism in terms of right or wrong. Doing so makes finding the value of the criticism impossible. Rather, look at the criticism as an opportunity to see through the eyes of the critic—and perhaps others. You may be able to learn a great deal about yourself.
Or, you may learn nothing at all. The fact is that not all criticisms are valid. But being receptive to all criticism is still in your best interest. Well-founded criticism can provide useful and important information. But you can decide if this information is important to you and whether or not you can or want to make a change.
Beware of destructive and negative self-talk
Listen to the thoughts, or “self-talk” in your head when facing criticism. Are you thinking things such as, “My boss must think I’m stupid” or “I screwed up again”? Such negative self-talk is a blow to your ego and minimizes your chance for personal and professional growth. Instead, defeat those thoughts by reminding yourself that criticism is in your best interest and that you have the ultimate choice whether or not to act on it.
Seek out criticism
Someone who is truly receptive to criticism invites feedback from others. It’s true that doing so shows you are not perfect. But by making yourself vulnerable to others, you are showing a sincere interest in bettering yourself and your relationships—and you will earn their respect.