The Truth About Criticism And How To Handle It

How do you deal with criticism? Feedback is a gift we’re often told but when the criticism is negative it can be very hard to handle.

Whether the comments come from your boss, a partner, or your own inner critical voice. The reaction you have is related to your experience of criticism as a child.

Think back, do any of these sound like situations you were criticised in?

  • Shouted at for breaking something or making a mess
  • Laughed at for not ‘being cool’ or not achieving at school
  • Labelled on your school report as lazy or disruptive
  • Undermined for your ideas and dreams

These first experiences of negative feedback can really affect how we take criticism in the future. It can mean we try everything to avoid criticism, which leads to perfectionism (trying to avoid mistakes) or not taking risks and new opportunities

I remember my older brother  (by 5 years) being really shouted at regularly by my Dad for not doing as he was told. Anything from the way he ate at the table to being disrespectful in what he said. I remember feeling really upset and my stomach turning with the fear that it might happen to me. That memory was enough to build in me a fear of criticism and disappointing others.

Why is criticism so painful?

  1. Criticism often comes with a label, such as you’re stupid or a nuisance or selfish. When we hear these as children, we can really take them to heart as facts we can’t change. Or we may make up our own labels from the criticism or feedback we get.
  2. The second reason is we often interpret criticism as being a rejection of us as a person rather than a criticism of a particular behaviour or action. For example; being criticised for not delivering on time comes over as ‘you’re not good enough and you’re disorganised’ rather than what you did was not good enough and disorganised

How To React Confidently To Criticism

Is it true? If the criticism is valid take responsibility for it without over apologising . If it’s not true, check there hasn’t been a misunderstanding and then assertively and concisely state why you believe it is untrue.

Is it exaggerated? People often use exaggeration when they are complaining or criticising, such as; you ‘never’ or you’re ‘always’. If the criticism is true but exaggerated, ensure you challenge the actual instances when it happened.

Is it specific? General feedback such as “I’m not happy with your work” or “your colleagues find you difficult to work with”, is unhelpful. Listen closely and ask clarifying questions so you can decide if it’s valid or not and how to change if necessary.

Criticism doesn’t have to be something you dread or react to as a child. As Stephen Covey says in his legendary book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People “seek first to understand before being understood”.

Have a great week and if you’d like to talk pr have any questions you can contact me here.

Jo x

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