No one likes to be criticized. If we believe the criticism is unjustified, it can make us feel angry and misunderstood. Even if we believe there is some justification for it, it still makes us feel defensive and like we’re being chastised. Either way, it doesn’t feel good.
Nonetheless, criticism is a fact of life. Sometimes criticism is overt, like when our boss comes right out and tells us we’re doing something “wrong” or when a family member says we’re “selfish.” Other times, it’s more covert, like when a friend signals their disapproval by saying something like, “Are you sure that’s what you want to wear?”
Whatever form it takes, it’s impossible to completely avoid criticism. Well, almost. As Aristotle said, “Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
So if criticism can’t be avoided, what is the best way to respond to it?
1. Don’t respond immediately. You may regret it later if you respond in anger. Wait until you’re calmer to respond.
2. Determine if there’s anything you can learn from the criticism. Don’t take criticism personally. Think about the message and if there’s any truth to it, use it to help you with your personal development.
3. Consider the source. If you don’t think the criticism is valid, consider who the criticism is coming from. Is it someone who…is a chronic complainer? has a grudge against you? has a motive for criticizing you? If so, the criticism may really be about the other person and not you, and you can just dismiss it.
4. Reflect on how frequently you’ve received the criticism. If one person has criticized you about a certain trait or behavior, it may or may not be a valid criticism. But if you’ve received the same criticism from multiple people over time, they may have a point and you may wish to think about whether it’s something you want to change.
5. Determine how, and if, you want to respond. In some cases, it may not even be worth your while to respond. However, if you are unjustly criticized in a way that can harm your job, your reputation, or your relationships, it’s important that you deal with the criticism. The key is to be polite, calm, and in control, and stay focused on the criticism itself, rather than the person delivering it.
6. Finally, go easy on yourself and the criticizer. If you determine the criticism is valid, that is still no reason to beat yourself up. Use what you can learn from the criticism and then move on. And if you determine the criticism is not valid, be compassionate with the criticizer. It’s possible that their own personal frustrations and unhappiness cause them to lash out at others. Forgive them and move on.
Even in instances where criticism is constructive and helps you to grow, you’re probably never going to learn to like it. But think of it like medicine – it may taste bitter going down, but you know in the end it will make you better!