Criticism: Can you cope?
Difficult or measured, cutting or helpful, slight or serious; one thing is for sure, we will all be on the receiving end of it at some time in our working and personal lives. I am speaking of “criticism”.
Why is it so hard to handle?
Most people find it hard to handle, though some do welcome it. Others say they would welcome it, yet when it arrives, do not find it so easy to digest.
Criticism can be well-intended, yet badly presented. The giver doesn’t have the skills to convey it constructively, and ends up putting you down. Sometimes the giver presents it in the guise of a criticism, whereas their real intention is to attack you personally, to make you feel inferior. You may find yourself reacting very strongly to what seems like a minor criticism in a way that is. The criticism may have touched on a past memory & triggered difficult feelings that appear out-of-proportion to the current event.
'Criticism' versus 'put-down'
A criticism ideally contains positive, practical ways forward to help you improve your performance or behaviour, whilst a put down is designed to make you feel bad. Some bosses think that the worse they try to make you feel, the harder you’ll work to win a “thank you” from them. In truth, encouragement - the carrot - produces better performance, whilst the stick leads to demoralisation and even lower performance.
Criticism can be a golden key.
First, take a different perspective on criticism. See it not as criticism, but as an opinion, suggestion or viewpoint.
Secondly, be confident in the knowledge that you have the choice to accept what you agree with, or to disagree with it.
Thirdly, reflect how sometimes a criticism, with hindsight, turns out to be a great piece of advice that helps you improve your performance and turn things around.
How to be assertive, constructive and confident:
1. Listen carefully without jumping in or getting defensive. Blurting out angrily “that’s not true”, may make you look weak.
2. Respond with confidence. Decide if you (a) agree (b) disagree or (c) partly agree with what is being levelled at you. This will help shape what you say.
3. Deal with it constructively, acknowledging their perspective and presenting yours.
4. If you feel put down by a verbal assault, find out more. Is it intended to be personal, or is it badly-presented criticism?
First is a work-related example:
"Your presentation was a disaster. Typical of you. What on earth did you think you were doing?”
Ask questions for clarification to find out what they mean. Focus them on the facts. “It would be helpful to know precisely, what you felt I could do differently?”
If they don’t have a useful answer, you’ll know they are simply putting you down. You can then put your view, such as, “I don’t agree it was a disaster. I felt it went well judging from the response."
However, if you have particular suggestions, "of course I’m ready to listen” or “I certainly didn’t see it as a disaster. However, I agree that I could rely less on slides & open it up to audience discussion. I’ll take it into account next time. Thanks for your advice”
Secondly, here is a personal example:
“You don’t care. Always thinking about yourself”
“I wonder what makes you say ‘I don’t care?"
“When I phone, you say you have to go. When I suggest meeting, you say you have to work late. You say you can’t come over on Christmas Day this year”
“I can understand it may appear that I don’t care but it’s far from the case. I care a great deal. I’ve been under a lot of work pressure the last few weeks. I’m looking after myself as I’ve been asked by my boss to be on call over the holiday this year, and it’s a long drive to work from you. I promise you I’ll come over on Boxing Day. I do hope you understand”
Use “I” not “you” statements, “I agree” and not “you’re right”; “I disagree” and not “you’re wrong”, shows more confidence and ownership.
So listen, think about what’s been said, reply calmly – you can ask for thinking time if you want to mull it over – and decide if you agree or not.
Then, you can reply to the criticism assertively and with confidence.
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