Ouch! It can really hurt when someone finds fault with you or your performance, be it a friend saying your new hair colour doesn’t suit you or your supervisor sending your project back for reworking. But instead of dissolving into tears, anger or feelings of inadequacy, remember criticism is not necessarily an attack on you. In fact, experts say constructive criticism can be a pathway to growth and improvement.
7 Ways To Bend, Not Break
Instead of crumbling under criticism, experts share how to deal with negative feedback in a productive manner
1 Respond calmly
Use a simple response to acknowledge you have heard their opinion. Try, “Thank you for the feedback. I’ll take that on board”, or “Okay, I’ll consider that”. If you have an emotional, heart-thumping reaction to what’s been said, your brain has gone into “fight or flight” mode. Don’t respond while you’re in this primed state. “Take a few minutes out, feel your feet on the ground, and breathe slowly and deeply until you feel more calm,” says wellness coach Trish Everett. “When you breathe in a relaxed way, your heart rate and stress response will come down so you can re-engage your rational brain before you respond.”
2 Don’t take it personally
Whether the criticism is constructive or just rude, don’t take it as a personal affront. “It’s particularly important in a professional setting to be able to receive criticism or feedback about your work without taking it personally,” says psychologist Elizabeth Neal. Create some distance between you and the issue by looking at the criticism from an objective standpoint. Look at the context and who’s the one delivering the criticism. Is it coming from a senior person at work? If so, is it simply legitimate feedback about your performance? Is it predictable negativity from a nit-picker? If this is the case, it’s probably less about you not being good enough and more about them feeling inadequate or envious and trying to bring you down.
3 Know your insecurities
Critical comments can activate a deeply-held negative belief we have about ourselves, like “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not wanted”. By becoming familiar with the inner story you have about yourself, you’ll know that when you’re triggered by a critical comment, you might be overreacting because it’s activated your painful core belief. “Your reaction to criticism depends on how sensitive that particular issue is for you,” says Serena Bailey, a life coach specialising in boundary setting.
4 Find the hidden gem
Put aside your reaction to look at what you can learn from this situation. “Be brave and ask yourself if there’s anything in what they’re saying that you can take on board,” suggests mindset coach Alyce Pilgrim. “Look at your reaction to see what this situation might be pushing you to learn. Ask yourself, ‘If this situation is happening to serve as an opportunity for my learning and growth, what would that learning be?’ Perhaps it’s telling you that you need to develop resilience or calmness in the face of others’ drama, or to learn to stand up for yourself or take responsibility for the behaviours you have that invite criticism.”
5 Think about it differently
If you’re really sensitive and any criticism – constructive or not – pushes your buttons, renaming it to “feedback” can help. This process, known as reframing, puts a different slant on something, enabling you to see it in a more positive light. “The word ‘criticism’ can have negative connotations, so by viewing it as feedback you can change your perception of it immediately,” life coach Serena says. “This allows you to take a step back from it emotionally which gives you more ability to choose how you respond.”
6 Go to the source
Have a conversation with the person who has criticised you. “It’s important to address it with curiosity, and not accusation,” says Serena. “Try to get to the bottom of their criticism by having an adult conversation with them about it – one that’s respectful to both of you,” she suggests. “Focus on what’s going on for you rather than trying to lay blame, and state what you need. For example, try saying, ‘I’m feeling confused about what the issue might be here and would love it if we could talk more about it so I can better understand where you are coming from.’”
7 Strengthen your boundaries
If you’re regularly brought down by criticism, working with a counsellor or psychologist to boost your self-esteem and boundaries may help. Try limiting the time you spend with the person who often criticises you so you can have more control over the interaction. “If it’s someone you really can’t avoid, try being more matter-of-fact with them, or withdraw your need for their friendship or approval,” advises psychologist Elizabeth.
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