Have you ever had one of those days when everything seems to be going your way? You know how that feels … when the sun is shining – even your hair looks good – and you’ve managed to clear your schedule – with no deadlines, stress or demands in sight. Heaven, right?
And then someone comes along with a thoughtless comment or hurtful accusation, and your spirit plunges into the depths of despair. Boom! Just like that, your day turns dark and your good mood sinks into a mud pit of self-loathing.
Criticism can hurt. Like a light switch, it can flip on your deepest insecurities, and bring out the worst in all of us. Here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be like that. There are ways to deal with criticism that can leave you feeling empowered and even, dare I say … stronger.
Take USA soccer star Carli Lloyd, for instance. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? You know … the woman that recently helped the women’s national team take home the 2015 Women’s World Cup? She can teach us all a thing or two about criticism.
Lloyd’s former coach, Pia Sundage, publicly criticized her in a way that could have been devastating. Instead, the spirited athlete let her performance on the field do the talking. She was awarded the prestigious Golden Ball trophy at the end of the championship game, and accepted it with grace and dignity.
As hard as it is, there are invaluable lessons we can learn from even our harshest critics. Here are positive ways to deal with criticism:
Look for personal growth opportunities.
Often (but not always) there is truth in criticism, whether you want to believe it or not. It can provide a raw opportunity to be open and honest with yourself, and help you identify possible weaknesses and areas of growth. Look at critiques from other people as new tools … designed to learn and gain new perspective. Challenge always expands thinking, and this is a good thing.
Develop new skills.
It’s never comfortable to be criticized, and it’s definitely hard not to immediately react (or even retaliate). Unfortunately, many of us have learned the hard way that reacting out of anger can cause irreparable damage. So learning to calmly “sit” in the criticism – even when we’re feeling sensitive or annoyed – is invaluable. This helps us hone our problem-solving skills, and discover unresolved issues. Despite the negative tone that criticism often comes wrapped in, we can learn to practice rational thinking and deduction.
For instance, if you have been told by your boss that your work is sloppy, it’s an opportunity to reflect on your work style. Do you need to enlist the help of a colleague as editor before you turn in reports? Or is your workspace literally a mess? Organizational skills can be learned. Or do you need to spend more time researching or evaluating projects? Look at your critics as tour guides, knowing you can follow their direction but also choose your own path.
Improve personal and professional relationships.
Overall, the people around us have our best intentions at heart, even if sometimes they deliver criticism harshly. So being criticized puts us in a situation of choosing conflict or resolution. When we choose to let our egos go (and the need to be right, or to “win”), then we can foster healthier relationships.
Responding to criticism also allows us to set boundaries in terms of how others treat us. Perhaps a colleague has a tendency to sarcastically point out your faults in front of others. This can slowly erode a productive working relationship. Instead, teach them how to treat you by saying, “I appreciate your perspective, but I would receive your input much better in private and with sincerity.” Just as receiving criticism is difficult, giving constructive criticism is a skill. If you are always on the receiving end, help your critic learn better ways to communicate.
What have you learned?
Most of us learn to handle criticism more productively over time. What are some of the strategies you use to deal with your critics, and have you learned valuable lessons along the way? Please share your stories below.