5 tips for dealing with criticism - Alessio Bianchi
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5 tips for dealing with criticism

If you struggle to cope with criticism then you are not alone, but you can turn it into a positive and useful experience. The key is to stay calm and look for ways to learn from it.

When someone criticises you or something you have done it is often an unpleasant experience. You may feel defensive, aggrieved and even hostile towards the person who is criticising you.

I have five golden rules for when I face criticism, and they can help you, too.

1. Take a breath instead of reacting

Criticism can generate a stress reaction in your body, raising your heart and breathing rate and causing your muscles to tense for action. This is the animal instinct of fight or flight, and it is unhelpful when you need a clear head and calm mind.

So take a breath, literally. A big breath and deliberate relaxation of the muscles goes a long way to allowing your all-important upper brain functions to get a grip on the situation. This is not an enemy warrior trying to stab you; it’s someone giving you information, and you need to handle it that way even if you don’t like the information.

2. Try not to be defensive when dealing with criticism

Once you have sheathed your attacking claws you also need to lower your defences a little. When you are criticised, the instinctive reaction is to become defensive in any number of ways, including minimising the problem, rationalising it away, and even devaluing the person criticising you.

Failing to deal with the actual criticism means you’re just hiding from it and missing out on possible benefits. If you feel yourself becoming defensive, put the thoughts aside to deal with later, so you can focus on what is being said.

3. Listen for ways to agree and be constructive

By being less aggressive and less defensive you are now set up to find something useful in the criticism. The core skill here is listening, because you need to understand the criticism. If you don’t listen to or read the criticism carefully you may be distracted from underlying truths.

The point is not to identify the weaknesses in someone’s criticism, but to find and use the strengths in what they are saying.

Crucially, this is important even if the criticism is not totally accurate. Did you do a good job but fail to communicate it well? Did you do most of the job well but make a mistake with one minor element? Can you help the other person to understand better? Grasping and discussing this sort of nuance can be incredibly helpful to both you and the person criticising you.

4. Be prepared to come back to the issue

By dealing with criticism rationally and honestly, and by showing you are doing so, you can now take steps to deal with it constructively. This can mean coming back to it later.

You may be exhausted or you may need to focus on something more urgent at that moment. By accepting the importance of the criticism, you can schedule in when to address it. This has the advantage of further distancing yourself from negative emotional reactions, as well as showing that you are taking the criticism seriously.

5. Say thank you to your critic

Criticism can be unpleasant and upsetting, but it actually carries a fundamentally positive message. You or your actions are significant enough to have prompted a reaction from someone, triggering a potentially useful process of assessment and discussion.

Even if the core criticism proves unfounded, or if the manner of the criticism is unpleasant, the process can still be valuable. Don’t be afraid of saying thank you to the critic for prompting that process.