Dealing with Criticism
Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of criticism (that means virtually all of us) knows that it can be hard to take. Initially, we may discredit the giver (“What does he know?”), become defensive (“I already put in 10 hours on that project. How dare she say it still needs work?”), or blame ourselves (“I never do anything right.”). If we actually take a moment to process what is being said, however, we oftentimes can learn.
Getting past negative emotions is essential to being able to deal with criticism as constructive feedback. Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of the bestselling book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, recommends avoiding two common behaviors: personalizing and over-generalizing. “There is a tendency to hear someone criticize something you did (a behavior) and interpret it as an attack on your character (who you are). That makes the words feel much worse. There is also a tendency for people to hear a specific criticism and interpret it to be general. For example, someone says ‘You were late’ and the receiver interprets it to mean, ‘You are always late.’”
Besides reframing one’s thinking to deal with what is actually being said, Lombardo also notes that believing in yourself and keeping stress levels under control can help take some sting out of the message. People with low self-esteem have a harder time accepting feedback, and people who are stressed tend to interpret everything in a more negative manner.
Considering the source can help decide your next course of action. You might want to take criticism from an arch rival with a grain of salt, but if the deliverer is someone with whom you have a good relationship, asking for clarification or problem-solving together on the issue can be to your benefit.
Finally, remember that reality is in the eye of the beholder. “Different people see different things,” Lombardo says. “Try to see things from the perspective of the person providing the feedback. Then, determine if it might actually help you be a better you.”