Dealing with criticism positively is an important life skill and has a lot to do with your confidence and your general outlook on life, as well as your experience with criticism. In this article, we are going to be looking at the types of criticism and how to deal with them.
At some point in your life, you will be criticised; both in a professional and personal capacity. Sometimes it will be difficult to accept – but that all depends on how confident you are within yourself. Often, just increasing your confidence and reminding yourself of previous successes can go a long way towards dealing with difficult situations better.
You can either use criticism in a positive way to improve yourself (or ‘feedback’), or in a negative way that will serve to lower your self-esteem and cause stress, anxiety, anger or even aggression.
*John knows the effects of professional criticism only too well. “I was three months into my new job when I was called in for a meeting with the Director. I thought I was going to get fired. The thoughts that were running through my head were: ‘I’m not good enough for this job. I’m just not experienced enough.’
I have completely suppressed memories of my previous work achievements and successes. All I could think of was how I was not good enough for this job.”
This reaction is very normal. John was so self-critical, he automatically thought the worst when he was called in for a meeting. Physical symptoms, he recalled, were horrendous. “Anxiety, nausea, panic attack- you name it, I’ve had it all morning.”
There are two types of criticism and you might have heard of these terms before: Constructive and Destructive criticism. Learning to recognise the difference between the two can help you deal with any criticism you may receive.
When challenged by another person, it is common to react in a negative manner. Consider how negative reactions make you look – and more importantly, how they make you feel. The way in which you choose to handle criticism has a knock-on effect on various aspects of your life. It is therefore far better to identify ways in which you can benefit from criticism and use it to your advantage and be a stronger person as a direct result of it.
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Constructive and Destructive Criticism
The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the way in which comments are delivered and how they are subsequently accepted by you.
Although both forms are challenging your ideas, character or ability, when someone is giving a destructive criticism, it can hurt your pride and have negative effects on your self-esteem and confidence. Destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness by another person, but it can also be deliberately malicious and hurtful (bullying at work, for instance). Destructive criticism can, in some cases, lead to anger and/or aggression. Sadly, people who deliver destructive criticism are not the ones who get hurt; it’s only you and your self-confidence that suffers.
Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is designed to carefully and tactfully point out your mistakes, but also show you where and how improvements can be made. Constructive criticism should be viewed as useful feedback that can help you improve yourself rather than put you down.
If we take a look at John and his meeting with a Director again, his experience of criticism went better than what he expected- a sign that Constructive Criticism had been delivered well, by an experienced person (The Director) and was consequently received well by John.
“I was still a wreck as I walked into that meeting. I remember shaking with nerves. My Director asked me if I was happy at my job; I said yes. He then said the team felt I would be far more suitable to a different team in the company; that my skills were far better suited to that type of work. At first, I felt hurt; but I quickly realised he was right. I did struggle in my current division at times and I thought the other team would have been far better for me. We agreed on the transfer there and then, and since then, I couldn’t be happier. So all in all, a win-win situation for both parties. I wish I wasn’t that negatively inclined and terrified when I was first called in; but I learned from this not to expect the worst, and take the criticism as a feedback, not a disaster or a loss of job.”
As we can see, when criticism is constructive it is usually easier to accept, even if it still hurts a little. In both cases, always try to remember: you can use the criticism to your advantage.
Dealing with Critical People
Some individuals are critical by nature and do not always realise they are hurting the feelings of another person.
If you know a person who is critical of everything, try not to take their comments too seriously as this is just a part of their character trait. If you do take negative comments to heart, it can create resentment and anger towards the other person, resulting in the damage to the relationship. Of course, we are talking about situations where the critical person is in your life for a reason, be it a work colleague/ boss or a relative. One would assume you would not choose to have a critical friend if you had a choice.
Remember, people who criticise everything or make scathing remarks to be hurtful are the ones who need help – not you!
The key thing to remember is that whatever the circumstances are, don´t respond in anger as this will cause a scene and create bad feelings. You might also end up feeling disappointed in how you handled the situation.
Try to remain calm and treat the other person with respect and understanding. This will help to defuse the situation and potentially stop it from getting out of hand. Show that you are the stronger person and try not to rise to the bait; do not use it as a reason to offer counter criticism. If you challenge the other person, you may start an argument that is probably unnecessary.
If you do feel that you may lose self-control, or say or do something potentially damaging, walk away. If you are in a meeting at work, politely excuse yourself and leave the room until you have had time to compose yourself. Even though someone’s negative remarks may hurt, it is more harmful for you to allow their criticism to be destructive to your confidence.
Taking the Positives Out of Criticism
We all make mistakes all the time, it is a human nature. As we go through life, we have plenty of opportunities to learn and improve ourselves. Therefore, no matter what kind of criticism is aimed at you, analyse it to find something you can learn from. At work or in personal relationships, try to take criticism on board to help you improve. When somebody is attacking your character, it is harder to accept, but that does not mean you should ignore it.
Also bear in mind that the criticism aimed at you may not make sense at the time. Generally speaking, there is usually some truth in criticism, even if it appears to be given out of spite and bitterness. Take a step back and try to see things from the other person’s point of view; perhaps ask a friend for their honest opinion – use criticism wisely and as a learning experience. See if it is possible to learn a little about how others perceive you; you may be able to use criticism to improve your interpersonal skills and consequently boost your confidence.
We all learn by making mistakes, and learning how to deal with criticism positively is one way that we can improve our interpersonal relationships with others.