God, this is embarrassing. I used to (12 years ago) drink too much. As in “do embarrassing things, say awful things, regret it in the morning” drink too much. I was self-medicating with alcohol . Then I was diagnosed as bipolar and put on medication. I stopped drinking. I even went to AA because it was suggested.
But I slipped and got drunk once. And I kept coming up with all of these excuses for getting drunk. My sponsor grabbed my wrist and said- bluntly, harshly- “The reason you got drunk is because you wanted to get drunk more than you wanted to stay sober”. Ouch. I stormed out of the room. Drove home. Thought about having a drink. But I didn’t.
I realized she was right. I picked up another one-day chip. Then a 30-day chip. And my 3-month chip. 6 month chip. 1 year chip.
What do you do when faced with criticism? Think back to an example in your life. It might be someone at work critiquing the way you reacted in a meeting. Or someone online arguing with your point of view. What was your reaction to it?
Even more importantly, what SHOULD your reaction have been? Here is what you can do next time to accept criticism. Hopefully, it will result in a better, happier you.
1. Stop Your initial reaction.
Unless you’re one of those people who automatically accept criticism with thankfulness, you need to stop your automatic reaction.
For most people, the automatic reaction will be defensiveness. To reject completely what they’re hearing. This is normal. This defense mechanism has kept psychologists busy since the time of Freud (“Coping Strategies and Defense Mechanisms”). Understand this is a normal reaction and work to overcome it.
Take a deep breath. Take another. Try to remember that criticism is a tool for you to grow into a better person.
Don’t cut them off. Don’t respond with “that wasn’t what I said” or “you don’t understand what I was saying/doing.” Even if you’re not saying it out loud, you might be thinking it mentally.
Take (another) breath. Listen to exactly what the other person is saying.
3. Make sure of what you’re hearing.
They might be nervous or feeling uncertain about giving criticism. Society and people tend to view criticism very negatively. Make sure you’re understanding the point they’re trying to get across.
Ask questions if needed to clarify what you are hearing. When you ask questions, do your best to make sure you don’t sound defensive.
Example: someone is critiquing your point of view in an online discussion. Instead of snapping back a harsh response, break down what was said. If you said multiple things, respond by breaking them down one by one and asking exactly what point they disagree with. Do this respectfully. Maybe you can find common ground on some of the other points.
Another example: a co-worker is critiquing how you acted in a meeting. Try to pin them down on exactly what actions or words bothered them. Was it your tone of voice? Was it what you said? Was it your body language? Show interest in finding out what actions/words you presented that might not be coming across as you intended.
4. Look at the source of criticism.
There are three types of people you’ll encounter:
- Those who do everything they can to support, inspire, and uplift others. You know those people. You love those people. You want to BE one of those people. At least, I do.
- Those who are just kind of there. They don’t really have an effect on others; they just live their lives. They’re good, fine people…don’t get me wrong. They just don’t have an emotional impact on others.
- Those who have criticism or a negative thought for everything. I don’t think they’re bad people. In fact, I feel kind of sorry for them. Can you imagine going through life with such an outlook?
When dealing with criticism, take a moment to look at the source. In the case of my drinking, my sponsor was in the first category. This was a woman who had been sober for 20 years who had my best interests at heart.
5. Accept the criticism if it's valid.
Some criticism is easier to accept than other. For example, when I was starting Elite Blog Academy (that’s an affiliate link; it doesn’t cost you anything extra if you click, but I earn a commission), we had to get outside reviews of our website. One anonymous user said “the spray paint on the header looks so ameatur and tacky.” Ouch. But it was valid criticism. I redid my header. But it didn’t hurt as much as someone close to me criticizing my personality would have.
Unless someone is just having a bad day and is lashing out at whoever is around, there is often a grain of truth inside criticism. Accept it.
6. Be willing to change.
Change is hard. In fact, this is probably the hardest of all of the steps listed on here. But it’s the most important.
But it’s easier if you understand deep down inside the cost of NOT changing. When I first started this whole writing thing, there wasn’t much money in it. I was desperate to make some money. Not because we needed it per se but because I felt guilty husband was supporting us. So I started mystery shopping. I got very involved in it.
My husband sat me down one day and said “You’ve lost your way.” Hearing that was hurtful. I was contributing, wasn’t I? But looking at the cost of not changing made the changing easier. As you can tell- since you’re reading this- I made the change.
8. Realize it’s not personal.
Even if it’s personal criticism, it’s your actions that are being criticized, not you as a person.
I know what you’re thinking. Well, what if someone IS criticizing you as a person? They’re still making that judgement based on your actions.
Years ago, I would tell myself, “Jennie, you’re just a negative person.” It was true at the time. I was honestly one of those people who heard implied criticism in everything people said.
Hearing my self-criticism, I took at step back. I looked at it from another perspective. What ACTIONS of mine prompted me to think that? One action was that since I felt I was being criticized, I often reacted to people not with warmth, but with coldness. As you can imagine, I didn’t have a lot of close friends. Even today I have to force myself to be a warm person. Either because my natural tendency or the way I was raised, something in me isn’t naturally warm. But I love those types of people. And want to be one of them.
Other actions? I don’t smile a lot. I’m still working on this! But someone who is always frowning or serious comes across as a negative person.
By looking at my actions, I started to change them. And by changing my actions, I literally changed my thought process and who I was as a person.
By stepping back and analyzing actions instead of character, I was able to change. My actions are what define me.
In case you’re curious, I’m still on my medication for being bipolar and am very stable these days. I also don’t drink to excess anymore. I have no desire to do so. Medication, growing up, and some good cognitive behavioral therapy fixed all the reasons I used to drink to excess.
In my life, I strive for criticism to be a positive thing. If we could only all GROW from criticism. If we could look at these things as a learning opportunity. Image what kind of the place the world would be!
Please feel free to comment below with a story of receiving criticism in your life. How did you react? Would you react differently now?