4 secrets to taking criticism confidently
Think back - do any of these sound like situations you were criticised in?
What's your childhood experience of taking criticism?
- 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.
I remember my older brother (by five years) being really told off several times by my Dad. That memory was enough to make me desperately want to avoid being shouted at by him and to not take criticism well all my life.
We often interpret criticism as being a rejection of us as a person rather than a criticism of a particular behaviour or action.
Or we may think we're being personally labelled rather than being given feedback on our behaviour.
For example: being criticised for not delivering on time comes over as 'you are not good enough and you are disorganised', rather than what you did was not good enough and disorganised.
How do you react to criticism?
- Get angry and defensively argue back? Do you feel the need to be right or to get your own back?
- Think it's unfair and that you're always being blamed, but rather than arguing back, act as if you've taken it on board? Then later subtly let your anger out in little comments and barbs?
- Agree that you're at fault and apologise profusely, whilst feeling you can't help it if you're not good enough?
You may use some or all of these approaches and the key thing to notice is that in all of them the person doesn't appear to have really listened and clarified what the criticism is really about.
Four secrets to taking criticism confidently
1. Listen carefully to determine whether you believe the criticism is fair and true. Ask clarifying questions if necessary to make your decision.
2. Agree with the criticism. For example: "yes I did make a mess of that piece of work." But try to avoid over apologising or promising to radically change. Instead, think about how you could together negotiate a change. "I agree that I should have spoken up for you in that meeting, how could we ensure I feel comfortable to do it next time?"
3. When the criticism is untrue it becomes more tricky as there're our memories of when we were a child and couldn't speak up, reinforcing our feelings. Plus if you've left criticism unchallenged in other situations then that is there too. Again the first step is to listen and clarify what is being said.
4. If you feel unfairly criticised then it's important to speak up rather than accept the criticism and feel resentful. You can do this with phrases like:
- I really must disagree with you, that wasn't my responsibility, so let's discuss where the problems came from.
- I'm really surprised you think that, can you explain how you got that impression?
Even if the criticism you receive is badly given, unjustified or given with a negative intention, you can still respond in an effective way, which allows you to speak up for yourself and maintain your relationship with the other person.