Criticisms attack our sense of self faster and harder than we imagine. All of us can be sensitive to criticism when it comes from the ‘right’ entity.
And we aren’t even discussing the internet trolls who get professionally paid to viciously slam you into submission.
When we criticize others, we are sure we are only criticizing their mistakes, and not their misplaced pride or inflated arrogance. So, they shouldn’t get touchy about it, right? Do you get the irony?
On the flip side, when people criticize us, our first reaction is they are not criticizing our genuine mistakes, but some personal aspect of ourselves. That is the main cause of our hurtfulness to a critique.
Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP, is a term coined by psychologist Elaine Aron. HSPs, according to Aron’s concept, are a subset of the population with a high level of sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. High SPS people exhibit heightened emotional sensitivity, stronger reactions to both external and internal stimuli — like pain, hunger, light, noise — and complex inner existence.
How To Not Be Sensitive To Criticism?
Here’s a quick summary of how to respond to criticism without being overly sensitive:
Rather than reacting instinctively to criticism, take a few moments (stimulus-response gap) to evaluate it and examine its merits. Recognize and express gratitude for the input, even if it was not positive or instructive. Resist criticizing them in return, especially if you are angry or resentful.
Now, let’s find out the 7 rules of handling criticism without being too touchy.
Rule No. 1: Understand Its Underlying Goodness
Most constructive criticisms aim to bring to light the underlying issues. Once you understand the deeper meaning of criticism and see its true purpose, you can handle it calmly and without being overly sensitive.
To stop being overly sensitive to criticism, you should understand that criticism is an effective tool helpful for improving an aspect of your life or work. In fact, that is the basic premise of any good criticism.
When you appreciate the underlying reason for criticism, you can use it as a pivot to make changes rather than judging the person or their way of delivering it.
Rule No. 2: If They Attack You, Stop It Right There
If the person attacks you, it’s time to clear out. Remember what Dale Carnegie said: “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do.”
Decide within the first 3 seconds if they are attacking your person or the issue.
You can only attach some importance to their words when it’s about the issue. But if the person delivering the words uses them to belittle or insult you, then criticism is no longer constructive.
Also remember, in all fairness, they are trying to criticize your work, not you personally. Give them that benefit of the doubt and ask them: “What exactly are you bothered about and what do you want me to do about it?”
Rule No. 3: Warn Them Before Clearing Out
There is constructive feedback, and then there is malicious faultfinding. Of course, criticism can be unfair when it has nothing to do with you or your job. It can also be unfair simply because it is wrong.
Either way, such criticisms point out a deficiency in the critics themselves.
Don’t let anyone off the hook if they’re constantly yelling at you, telling you you’re worthless. Tell them their behavior is obnoxious and unacceptable.
Ask them to either frame their criticism constructively or get lost. If they still haven’t moved away, warn them if they do not do so or change their stance immediately, you’re clearing out.
Let Ray Bradbury, the celebrated American science-fiction author, guide you on this: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
Busy now? Download the Checklist To Become Tough To Criticize (Right-click to save link)
Rule No. 4: Don’t Be Bullied. Don’t Be The Bully
When you know the exact reason for a given criticism, you can use that to make changes. Otherwise, it’s bullying, not critiquing.
The freelance journalist Maham Barbar explains the difference:
Constructive criticism is a process of offering well-intended remarks on the work of others so they can know their strengths and weaknesses, which helps them improve in the future.
Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior that is used to exploit someone. This behavior is repeated and it can affect the person’s physical and mental health.
The same holds for you: don’t be that narcissistic dirtbag. Don’t insult others like they are idiots. Instead, offer them well-meaning, constructive, helpful feedback, especially when you know they are sensitive to criticism.
Rule No. 5: Respond With Your Thinking Brain, Not Reactive Brain
A negative response to constructive criticism is something many of us do. But keep in mind, all criticism goes towards helping you improve, so if a critique is constructive and supportive, let it inspire you to carry out the rectification.
Some people seem to handle criticism better than others. They seem to have a special ability to defuse a tense situation and disarm the critic. They have a built-in style of taking control of the situation instead of feeling helpless or incensed.
To be that kind of person, learn to stop yourself from giving a knee-jerk reaction, and, instead, pause to think rationally for a while. Only then respond to the information, usually with a steady and light attitude.
Never rush in to interpret a negative criticism about your work as a personal attack on you. Give it a few seconds. Ask yourself if anyone else were at your place doing the same thing, would they have criticized that person’s work too?
A criticism may seem to be a critic’s disdain for your character or a reflection of how that person sees you. A person criticizing you may not always make sense, more than the criticism itself.
Whenever you feel so, take a step back and try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Ask a common friend for their honest opinion. Let the criticism speak the truth to you, even if it seems to be a slug of bitterness.
Rule No. 6: Do Not Let Criticism Bother You
Not everyone who doesn’t see it the way you do is criticizing you. Ralph Waldo Emerson had seen this coming long ago, and he forged the right self-advice for this: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
When someone offers criticism, it is important you do not allow their words to damage your self-esteem and self-confidence. Accept their opinion and try to find out its authenticity and merits without branding it as unfair or derogatory.
Importantly, figure out the persons in your life who want the best for you. For them, criticism of you is often a dialogue with you. Your response to their criticism will have to vary according to their intentions.
For example, if they are in despair because you haven’t spent enough time with them, their criticism of you is actually a complaint of your neglect.
Rule No. 7: Stop taking criticism personally
The key to stopping to take criticism personally is to be proactive and respectful.
When criticized at work or at any other social setting, the primary aim should be to accept it as necessary feedback to what one did. Then to ask for clarification.
Finally, to offer them compensation for your mistake, if there was a mistake. Or excusing themselves out of the situation while ignoring the person and avoiding further confrontation, if there was no shortcoming on their part.
You, as the criticized person, should not be reactive or resentful. Nor should you close yourself off from all further communications from the critic.
Bonus Rule: Set Clearly Marked Boundaries
Boundaries are the psychological fences that we build to mark our personal space, where other people cannot enter without our permission. They are necessary both in professional and personal relationships.
Many people see their work and job as an extension of who they are—they do not have boundaries. They are prone to internalize the criticism they received at their work and suffer personally as a result.
To them, a negative performance appraisal may feel like a punch in the face, causing them to snap at their close ones once they reach home.
Remember, if the critic is targeting their critique at your work rather than at you, it should be accepted, and even welcomed, but left at the workplace.
You should be careful to keep the boundaries between the personal self and the workplace self intact. You should remember that your work-related mistakes do not portray your character’s flaws.
If you receive disturbing feedback over emails that make you doubt yourself, arrange a follow-up email or phone call. Be polite but stick to the point. Adapt your approach to suit the person you are working with. Ask them to explain their grievance clearly. Let them know you are seeking feedback that will help you grow.
Cancel culture is a modern term for social ostracism in which someone is forced out of professional or social circles, online or in person. Those subjected to this ostracism are said to have been “canceled.”
It is a particularly savage attack on one’s reputation, carefully built over years. Many of the thick-skinned people, who insist that no insults or criticism can hurt them ever, can turn brittle when the ‘cancel culture‘ targets them.
Silencing critics without offending them is a skill, not an inborn trait, that takes time and practice. To master that, first, stop yourself from jumping to counterattack the next critique. Instead, let them speak while you listen actively.
You may then decide to distance yourself from that critic, and not engage with them unless absolutely necessary. Meanwhile, focus on self-discovery and show up with an improved version of yourself.
Both encouraging and expressing criticism in ways that are constructive and helpful is something all leaders must learn to do.
John C. Maxwell says, “The price of leadership is criticism. No one pays much attention to the last-place finishers. But when you’re in front, everything gets noticed. So it is important to learn to handle criticism constructively.”
In his book, Leadership Gold, John C. Maxwell outlines a four-step process that he uses when people criticize him as a leader: 1. Know yourself. 2. Change yourself. 3. Accept yourself. 4. Forget yourself.
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We often boast we know how to deal with criticism. However, when we confront a harsh critique, we react in ways that we claimed we would never do. How to handle criticism like a pro?
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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