Join Dorie Clark for an in-depth discussion in this video How to positively respond to criticism, part of Personal Effectiveness Tips.
- No one likes having their work criticized. It is bad enough when criticism comes from your boss. But it's their job to offer feedback, and they're trying to improve your performance. But when outsiders decide that they should weigh in, when an obnoxious troll comments on your blog post, or a co-worker decides to give you a few pointers about how you can do better with your presentation next time, that can be a little obnoxious, a little upsetting, and a little hurtful. You might be tempted to react in the moment, but raw emotion is probably not going to be helpful.
Here's what to do instead. First and most importantly, don't mouth off. You might dearly want to, "Who is this person who thinks they have the right to criticize me? What gives them the standing to do it?" But it's a poor idea. First of all, it gives them the moral high ground. They were just trying to be nice and offer you some help. And you look like a hothead because in their telling, you lashed out and attacked them. Don't give them that justification. Instead, smile your tight-lipped little smile, nod, and walk away so you can cool off.
They may know you're not pleased, and that's fine. The key is that you shouldn't say something they can use as ammunition against you later. You have all the information you need at this point, which is that the person is a little condescending and irritating. You file that away for future use, and limit your interactions where possible. Second, it's useful to step back and determine if you're overreacting. Did they actually intend it to be a criticism? Sometimes we take what's meant to be a neutral, or even positive comment, and get defensive so quickly, we don't fully appreciate the person's intentions.
If they tell you your new design is cute, that might sound like a putdown, but maybe they just don't have sophisticated design language at their disposal, and cute means they really liked it. Even if they do intend to offer critical feedback, it might be misguided, it might not be useful, but it's worth asking if their intentions are good. Some people criticize you to hurt you, or make themselves feel superior. But if someone's coming from a good place, it's important to at least realize that, so you can put it in perspective, and see their criticism as an erroneous way they're trying to be helpful.
Finally, it's worth remembering that criticism is a sign of success. It might not feel like, who likes to be told that their work is lousy, but the truth is, it says something that they're paying attention in the first place in a noisy and crowded marketplace. They become engaged enough, or view you as important enough that they feel a desire to engage with you and your work. Maybe not in a healthy way, but in an economy where attention is the scarcest resource of all, their criticism is actually a compliment. You're being noticed and talked about.
Realizing that, sometimes, can help soften the blow. It is never fun to be criticized, but if you use these strategies when dealing with critics, you'll be able to de-escalate fraught interactions, and move forward with the important stuff.
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