“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~ Aristotle
By Executive Coach, Karen Nutter
Sometimes it feels like everyone is a critic. Our highly-engaged, social media, instant-response society gives everyone a voice about everything we do, and it can be difficult to take. Add to that the criticism from our bosses, co-workers, family, and friends, and it may sometimes feel like the only one we’re not being criticized by is the dog… and even he sometimes gives a judgmental look.
There are many books and articles about the benefits of constructive criticism, and how much we can learn and grow from it, but no matter how constructive it may be, somehow it often seems to strike a negative nerve. Still, if you’re going to survive, thrive and succeed in today’s culture, getting comfortable with criticism is a must.
Your Inner Critic
Often, the harshest critic of all is the one inside our own head. It’s that voice that is telling us we’re not good enough, the one that listens to what everyone else says about us, and the part of us that often hears negative comments whether they are there or not.
For many of us, before we can successfully manage the external critics, we must learn to tame our internal one. Doing this requires some introspection and a change in our self-talk so that we appreciate and respect ourselves more. People who are highly self-critical are often stuck in a cycle of stress, depression, anxiety and burnout, making it hard to accomplish personal and professional goals. When we learn to quiet the inner critic, we are better equipped to understand ourselves and the often irrational fears we have about our abilities, and our contribution to the world around us. In addition, the self-esteem we build as we learn to quell our inner critic, provides us with a clearer picture of how to handle the external nay-sayers.
Your External Critics
Have you ever had someone offer you “constructive criticism” that seemed anything but helpful? And then, they add “No offense” and you’re standing there smiling politely while feeling as if you’ve been punched in the gut. Those critics are the worst. They act like they are trying to help and yet most times their opinion is unsolicited.
So, how do we handle something we can’t even see coming our way? To get comfortable with this external criticism, we must first dispel some myths.
- Myth: Criticism means there’s something wrong with you.
- Truth: Criticism is someone else’s opinion. Nothing more. Period!
- Myth: Successful people learn, grow and change by accepting criticisms.
- Truth: Truly successful people recognize that some people will like them, others will not, and they decide for themselves whether or not they need to change.
- Myth: You must develop a thick skin and accept criticism.
- Truth: You don’t need to create a shield to protect yourself, you just need to better define criticism and recognize what it is at its root.
When you are presented with any form of criticism, stop for a moment and look at what is being said, and who is saying it. Ask yourself “What do the other person’s comments say about THEM?“
Most often, people are critical of others when their self-confidence is low, or they feel threatened and scared. For some people, putting others down simply makes them feel better about themselves, and provides them with a short-term feeling of power. When you recognize this, it allows you to keep from taking things personally, and offers a great insight to the critic. Use this new insight to help you be more effective in working or living with them.
There will always be critics. Some will be people we know and love, others will be names and faces we see on social media, in our office, or at a friend’s party. When you recognize that criticisms are just opinions, and you do not need to try and please everyone by accepting or incorporating the viewpoint of others, you give yourself the gift of freedom. You are free to have your own opinions, free to make changes as you see fit, and certainly free to disagree.
While feedback from others can be helpful, think of the criticism you receive as an opportunity to learn more about both the person criticizing you, while learning more about yourself. Then, decide what is best for YOU, personally and professionally.
We can’t completely avoid being criticized unless we avoid all contact with society, but, we can view criticism as just one of the countless opinions out there, and choose whether or not it aligns with our personal values and our needs.