How to handle Criticism
In his letter to the people of Ephesus, St Paul advised: ďLet no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hearĒ (Eph 4:29).
Everyone encounters criticism, whether it is a manager pointing out declining performance, a bad review of your writing, a comment about your dress or even self-criticism after an embarrassing slip-up.
Your ability to digest that criticism and make use of it says a lot about who you are. Even better is to be the kind of person who can take a sharp, verbal critique, stand up and perform even better.
Most of the time we donít tell people what we really think of them. We either say nothing or we sugarcoat our feedback to each other. Why do we do this? Why does it hurt to be on the back-end of an honest opinion?
I believe it is because most of us have not received feedback or criticism in a way that builds us up, but rather in a way that points out how we have failed.
As a result, we havenít trained ourselves to recognise that a criticism of our behaviours, results or efforts isnít a criticism of ourselves. Once you train yourself to notice the separation, you can start using any criticism thrown your way to improve your future efforts.
It is a new year and most of us are gearing ourselves to improving our behaviours and performance to achieve better results. But criticism will come our way. And we too will have opportunities to criticise others.
Here are some tips for surviving feedback that might crash upon your ego:
l Balance yourself. Whenever you get a piece of criticism, you need to balance it by recognising that this is just one tiny critique out of all feedback.
l Donít exaggerate its impact on who you are. Do not lose sight of everything else that you are doing right by focusing on this one piece of negative feedback.
l There is no absolute feedback. We are so fond of speaking in absolutes, like you always do this and you never do that. This is where part of the hurt in criticism resides.
If someone told a stand-up comedian he wasnít funny after a show, that would probably mean he wasnít as funny as the other comedians whom that person likes. It doesnít mean the stand-up comedian is objectively the most unfunny person ever.
- Donít ask for honesty when you want support. When we ask someone for their ďhonest opinionĒ, we should brace ourselves for exactly that and not want to tune in only for praise. Notice how you feel inside when you ask for feedback. Do you want help or validation? Be clear on that, else you might receive an unexpected critique.
l donít argue. What I admire in great leaders is that they do not engage in arguments with their assailants when they are criticised. Great leaders show maturity by not bringing themselves down to the level of their harshest critics, but rather redirecting the criticism into something positive thereby looking more secure and confident as a leader.
- Train your ego. My ego gets bruised when I am criticised because I always want to achieve my best. And I realise that I cannot have a sensitive ego when I want to have continuous feedback on my work. Because failure is also part of life.
How can I train my ego not to feel hurt so easily? The only way is to go towards criticism. Actively seek out criticism to give your ego the exercise needed to become desensitised to hurt. Itís like forcing children to eat vegetablesóthey donít enjoy it, but itís good for them. It builds them up and makes them stronger.
St Paul writes to the Ephesians to let ďonly such as is good for building upĒ come out your mouth. In this new year, let us not run away from criticism, but welcome it, to learn from it.
And letís always give constructive feedback that builds the other up and brings out their best.