“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle
Have you ever met someone who never, ever rocks the boat? Who has no opinions on anything ever? I worked with a woman years ago who was just like this. She was so afraid of ever receiving criticism, she was kind of paralysed by it. We went to grab a sandwich for lunch together one day and she choose a chicken salad sandwich WITHOUT brie cheese on it. I gasped and said in mock outrage ‘Why would you NOT get the one with brie? Brie is savoury sandwich Nutella. It’s basically not optional’. She went bright red and pretty much didn’t speak to me for the rest of the week. I felt terrible because obviously I was joking and just trying to make conversation but she took that as a criticism and was very uncomfortable around me for the next few days.
This is an extreme example but in general, most humans aren’t very good at receiving criticism. I know I’m not and it’s something I’ve really had to work at. For example, I speak really loudly all the time. I’ve had several people tell me to use my inside voice in cafes and you know what? It hurts my feelings when people say that. I don’t want to be the loud, shouty person in the cafe that’s ruining everyone else’s lunch but with my general life enthusiasm coupled with years of drama and vocal training, it’s just habit for me to speak really loudly and clearly all the time. The way I learned to deal with this is to re-frame the criticism. I realised in this particular scenario that my feelings were the least important part of this equation. I didn’t want to ruin other diners experiences by talking over the top of them and my dining companions didn’t want everyone in the cafe hearing my responses to their personal questions. So the only solution was to admit I needed reminding to tone this habit down and not get all butt hurt everytime someone said ‘Inside voice Carly!’.
If you struggle with criticism, here are a few things you can do to help re-frame negative feedback and put it in a more positive light.
1. Look at it as an opportunity for personal growth
Yeah, it really sucks when people point out things they don’t like about you. That’s never fun. You know what’s worse? Having people talk about your bad behaviour behind your back. Wouldn’t you rather you know that your colleagues found you stopping by their desk for a chat really distracting? Rather than you continue to do it and just annoy them every day? Wouldn’t you rather someone tell you that you spend too much time on your phone at work so you have the opportunity to rectify that behaviour before it gets escalated to upper management? There are employment laws that protect people from getting disciplined or fired at work without warnings and when you receive criticism at work, you’re actually being given an opportunity to improve. Which is a much better option than the alternative of losing your job without any warning.
2. Look at it as an opportunity to improve relationships
Receiving criticism at work is one thing but receiving criticism from friends is another thing entirely. If you get some criticism from a friend, it usually means they care enough about you to tell you. Think about it. If a mate of yours starts behaving like a jerk and you don’t really care about the friendship that much, you just kind of ghost them right? You spend less and less time with them until the friendship fizzles out. If it’s someone you REALLY love, you tell them gently and kindly because you want them in your life. If a very close friend gives you some negative feedback, it’s almost always out of love and them giving you that feedback is just as painful for them as it for you. Try not to make it harder by reacting badly.
3. Look at it as a compliment
I’ve been writing on the internet for over a decade, so I get criticism nearly every week. Sometimes several times a week. A lot of the time it’s moronic bullshit but sometimes I get pulled up on some language I’ve used that might be triggering or a phrase I wrote that could be misinterpreted. Rather than get defensive when people point this out, I thank them. I try to be inclusive in my language so when someone takes the time to point out that something I’ve written wasn’t appropriate, I’m grateful because it gives me the opportunity to improve my craft. Also, most of the time when people email me about the nuance of language, they’re are so lovely and gracious I’m just thrilled they care enough about my work to educate me on something I wasn’t aware of. I’m a very socially conscious person but I can’t be across all language appropriation all the time. I rely on people who are in these niche circles to tell me what’s happening with language in those circles and I really appreciate them giving me their time.
This week on Straight & Curly, Kelly and I talking about criticism and how to re-frame it in a more positive way.