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. Many of the thick-skins who insist words cannot hurt them, turn brittle when the ‘cancel culture‘ targets them.
And we aren’t even discussing the professional internet trolls who get paid to viciously slam you into submission.
How to stop being sensitive to criticism?
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.
Let’s find out the rules of handling criticism without being too touchy.
Rule No. 1: Understand Its Underlying Goodness
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.
Essentially, most constructive criticisms intend to bring the latent problematic issues into focus. Once you understand the deeper import of criticism and see its true purpose, you are on your way to handle it safely without being overly sensitive.
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.”
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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 prude yourself. Don’t come off as a dirtbag when you can, instead, offer a sensitive person some well-meaning, constructive, helpful 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.
It is important to figure out who are 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
Many people see their work and their job as an extension of what they are. So it is easy to take criticism of one’s work or performance personally, like a punch in the face or a dig in the ribs. Ideally, if the critic is directing their criticism at your work, not at you, then it should be accepted and even welcomed.
As a receiving person, one should be careful to keep the boundaries between the personal self and the workplace self. They should strive to remember that work-related mistakes do not portray their character’s flaws.
Silencing critics is a skill rather than a personality trait, and it takes time and practice. You don’t have to jump to wipe away the next criticism you receive. Wait and bide your time. You can decide not to show them your face unless you or they have changed for the better. Meanwhile, get down to improving yourself or distance yourself from that critic.
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.
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, he gives us a four-step process that has helped when people criticize him as a leader: 1. Know yourself. 2. Change yourself. 3. Accept yourself. 4. Forget yourself.
Check out the 10 Ways To Handle Criticism. Find out how our bodies and minds react to flak.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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