Responding to Criticism: Do You Build Walls or Bridges?

wall or bridgeToday is Monday, December 2, 2013.

Some people will always throw stones in your path.  It depends on you what you make with them, Wall or Bridge?  Remember, you are the architect of your life.

How do you respond to criticism?  Do you defend yourself by building walls, or do you build bridges of understanding by listening to what people have to say in order to improve your performance?   If you’re like most people, your first instinct is to defend yourself.   Here are some ways to go about building bridges, instead.

Criticism hurts, it just does, especially when you didn’t see it coming, or when it comes from people who say they love you.  Instead of allowing your shock, anger, or disappointment to trap you into a knee-jerk response that you may regret later, give this sequence of steps a try.

First of all, postpone your reaction.  Smile, even if it feels a little fake.  Ask the person questions, if necessary, to clarify exactly what he or she meant.  Listen to what the person has to say all the way through.  Sometimes, a person who is complaining really just wants to be heard.   If you are being confronted by a group of people, be sure to let everyone have their say.  Stay calm and polite, and write things down. If necessary, restate the criticism to ensure that you have understood it.

If you are experiencing strong negative emotions, tell your critics that you would like to continue the conversation at a later time, and ask them respectfully to give you time to collect yourself before addressing their concerns.  No one has the right to force you to deal with their criticism immediately.   Take all the time you need to cool off and let emotions run their course.  It’s better to acknowledge how you are feeling, rather than to sweep your emotions under the rug.  Ask yourself why you are feeling fearful, angry, embarrassed, or threatened.    Chances are that the reasons behind the feelings have less to do with the actual criticism and more to do with other things.

Consider the source of the criticism, as well as the context.  Is the person your supervisor or colleague at work?  Is he or she a friend of yours?  Does the criticism have to do with your performance at work or is it a comment on your social behavior?  Does the criticism come from someone you know well or from a stranger?  Does it come from someone who “knows the back story”?   Are you likely to encounter your critic again on a regular basis?  How much influence does your critic have in your life?  How much of a stakeholder is your critic?  In other words, how much do your actions affect your critic?  If you were to make changes, would the critic actually benefit from the change, or is the critic simply a bystander?   Also, has the person criticized you before, and if so, how often or how much?  If the criticism is regular, or ongoing, it masks a deeper issue that must be resolved, and it’s not always your problem; it’s their issue.  If possible, it’s best to distance yourself completely from this type of person, but if that is not possible, then you will have to find ways to avoid spending much time with the person, avoid giving them the opportunity to criticize, or learn not to listen to them.

Consider the criticism itself.  Sometimes criticism feels as if it is leveled at us, personally, but most of the time, people are really just criticizing our specific actions, our general behavior, or our job performance.  If people are criticizing you, personally, then, once again, there is a deeper issue to be resolved.  It will depend on whether both you and your critic are willing to work out the issue.  If one of you is not, then the only thing to do is find a way to stay away from each other.

Most of the time, though, what is being criticized is not really you, per se, but rather something that you did. Try not to take the criticism personally.  In other words, remember that just because you did something that the other person doesn’t like, that doesn’t mean he or she thinks you are a bad person.   This is the time to remember, as well, that many people are not very good at expressing themselves.  Many people have just as much trouble giving praise as they do criticizing others.  In addition, people often wait to make a criticism until they have reached a breaking point, which means they are feeling negative emotions that color the way they express themselves.  They may use strong language or call you insulting names.  If you can separate the language and the insults from the actual criticism, that will make it easier for you not to take it personally.

Whatever you decide to do, never try to get revenge.  If the criticism is false, time is on your side, and people will see that you’ve been wronged.  And even if the person has hurt your feelings intentionally or embarrassed you badly in front of others, the only thing revenge will do is bring you to the same (lower) level as your accuser.  Take the high road!

Once you have separated the actual criticism from the emotional content, view it as an opportunity to improve yourself or learn something new.  Subject the criticism to a validity analysis.   Is there some truth to the criticism?  If there is, then you have a choice of ways to deal with the situation.  If the criticism is not true, you can do one of two things: you can speak to your critic and clarify your reasons for doing what you did in the fashion that you did it, or you can ignore the criticism.  If the criticism is not true, there may be some other reason why the person criticized you.  Jealousy, perhaps, or fear of losing  his position at work?  Fear that you might steal her boyfriend?  A need to aggrandize himself in front of someone else?  A spiteful reaction to something real or perceived that you might have done to her in the past?  If you see that there is another issue being acted out, try to deal with that issue directly, rather than with the criticism.

If your critic has a point, be sure to thank him or her for the feedback, even if you are not feeling very grateful at the moment.  Look for common themes: have you been criticized for this same thing before?  What do you need to do differently?  Go back and study the facts, ask an expert how to do it right next time,  get some more practice, make some changes in the way things are done.  In other words, do whatever it takes to make things right. Make sure that your critic knows that you have made efforts to change, and get further feedback, if you can, on any improvements you have made.

Once you done these things, you will find that you have built some bridges of understanding between yourself and others.  As well, you will have built some bridges to future success, instead of keeping yourself cooped up behind walls that you don’t really need.  🙂

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1 Comment

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One response to “Responding to Criticism: Do You Build Walls or Bridges?

  1. I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

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