Getting criticized stings, especially when it’s insulting rather than constructive. There comes a time when every person faces an attack that’s filled with venom rather than good intentions, when what should be a critique to spur improvement becomes a verbal flogging. Tell me I’m not the only one who’s been there!
There are a couple of reasons criticism often hurts more than it should:
- the criticism unearths a secret fear we’ve been harboring
- the criticism points at a truth we believe about ourselves
In those cases, we need to recognize where we need to shore up our confidence and our skills. But in other cases, the criticism is unnecessary and mean-spirited. Anyone who’s in the public eye—writers, speakers, musicians—knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Sometimes people are in a position where they have to offer constructive critique, such as employers, but the way people communicate can either build you up…or send your confidence through the paper shredder. Remember, the way a criticism is conveyed says way more about that person than it says about you. If their tone is nasty, they’re likely dealing with their own insecurities, or trying to elevate themselves by pushing you down.
Or they were raised by wild chimps. (When in doubt, I go with the wild chimps theory.)
Even if you don’t buy what the criticizer flings at you, destructive words hurt and can often keep us from progressing toward a goal we’re trying to achieve. Rather than letting the bad guys win, here are 3 steps for handling criticism:
Dissect the criticism
Strip away the nastiness, put downs and anything that appears personal or biased. Try to separate the tone from the message being conveyed. Separate the message from the person. We often have a harder time receiving a message from a person who has a pattern of rudeness.
Evaluate what’s left
Are there nuggets of truth contained within the criticism? Often there’s a valid point that needed to be made that can only be revealed once the garbage is scraped off the top.
Take action…or not
Fix what you determine is necessary in accordance with your core values and goals. Toss the rest. Of course, if it’s a person in authority issuing an edict through the criticism, you have to decide whether to suck it up and do it—or move on.
As I said, how the message is conveyed says more about that person than it does about you. But how you handle the criticism tells everyone who you are and what you stand for. Take a deep breath and keep your chin up. And remember, don’t let the wild chimps get you down!
Have you received a harsh criticism? How did you handle it?