We can all relate to being criticized and then feeling terrible. There is not a single one of us who derives pleasure from being criticized. It hits all of us very hard and certainly takes a toll for several reasons. One of the main reasons that criticism is so painful is because it stays with us longer than praise. This is truly a shame but it is the painful truth. Think about the last time that you got a compliment and were criticized on the same day. What hit you harder and stayed with you longer? It was most certainly the criticism and even now as you think about it you are experiencing a bit of displeasure at the very least. There are a number of other reasons why we feel badly, anxious, stressed etc. while and after being criticized. We feel judged. We feel attacked. We worry about losing love, relationships, jobs and our good reputations. We associate criticism with loss and that makes us feel very vulnerable.
Sometimes criticism is delivered as an attempt to give helpful feedback. A colleague at work may be trying to make you aware of a behavior that is not helpful and should be modified for better performance. Other times, a friend may make a suggestion about your parenting skills. A parent may suggest that you dress differently or try out a new style. Depending on the delivery and the content, you may be more or less distressed. There may be times when you feel worse than others.
In my work, I have noticed that there are some people who seem to deal with criticism more effectively than others. They have developed a style in which they take control of the situation and don’t feel that they are helpless. They all seem to have one particular skill in common. They have learned how to defuse tense situations and disarm the person who is criticizing them. The person who is being critical almost consistently calms down and delivers information with a lighter touch. Read on to see what these skilled individuals of all ages do. These skills will not always work but they will certainly help you if you are inclined to try them. I can assure you that you will have ample opportunities and multiple situations in which to practice these skills.
When you are interacting with someone who is criticizing you here are some reactions and actions to try.
1. Stay calm. I know that your heart may be beating rapidly and your palms may become sweaty but you must breathe deeply and appear calm. Calmness, even if it does not come naturally or easily, always wins over agitation. You will get to the next several steps only if you can remain calm. Keep breathing deeply.
1. Listen. Before you start responding, let the person finish saying what they need to say. If you don’t, you will appear defensive and the other person may become more agitated. Remain quiet until you finish listening. It is only when you have heard the person out that you can think about what they have said. Take a moment to prepare your response. And, if you are not ready to respond then move on to step 3.
3. Tell the person who has just criticized you that you need time to think about what they have said. I am assuming that the person delivering the criticism to you is a meaningful person in your life. If the person criticizing you is a random stranger then you certainly have the option to move on and away from the situation immediately. However, if the person is important to you and you are not sure how to respond then buy yourself some time. Tell them that you will get back to them because you need 24 hours to think about this. This tends to be very helpful because we often feel differently about interactions after this crucial period of time has passed. Don’t we?
4. In any event, whether you respond immediately or are going to take 24 hours to think before responding it may be very helpful to think about whether or not there are any positive takeaway messages in the interaction. Perhaps the person who is delivering the feedback cares so deeply about you that they truly want you to be the best version of yourself. Maybe your boss is grooming you to take over her job when she gets a promotion and is trying to help you get that position. Keep in mind, that there may be something positive going on here and try to identify what that may be and see what you can learn.
5. If you are not sure if the feedback has any merit then consider running it by a trusted co-worker or friend who will be honest with you. They will help you figure out if the criticism is about you, about the about the deliverer, or is some sort of mix. The emphasis here is on the word trust. Pick a person that you trust to speak the truth to you. It is easier to hear the truth from someone who knows you and cares about you.
6. When you decide to respond, ask for examples. If you are being told that you seem uninvolved, unprepared, inconsiderate, thoughtless etc. and this doesn’t ring true for you then ask for examples. This gives you something to work with and think about. Having global terms like sloppy, lazy etc. tossed at you is rarely helpful. Examples, on the other hand, are much more likely to serve you well.
7. This is a tough one but hear me out. Try to have a bit of empathy for the person talking to you. She may think that she is being polite when she is actually being aggressive. Or he may be so nervous that he may default to talking too much. In any event, you may feel calmer if you are studying the other person.
8. Consider doing something nice for yourself on the day that you have received something that feels critical. We all benefit from proper self-care.