Do You Hate to Receive Criticism?
CAN you recall the last time you were criticized? This happens to everybody from time to time for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps someone criticized you to elevate himself. Often, though, criticism comes from a person who has your interests at heart: Your husband noted a flaw in your cooking; your wife said that your tie did not match your suit; a friend criticized you for not taking care of your health. Or the criticism may have been disciplinary, such as from an employer or a parent (if you are a minor), to correct something you said or did.
Whatever the case, did you welcome the criticism? Or were you irritated, perhaps even telling him to mind his own business?
For many, receiving criticism is a painful experience. They become angry, resentful. Others lose confidence, conclude that ‘I can’t do anything right’ and become depressed.
Are you among those who hate to be criticized? You are not unusual; many feel that way. Can you learn to receive criticism with less pain, without overreacting? This article will explore six ways that criticism can be made more palatable. They may help you to remove, or at least to lessen, the sting of criticism.
1. Welcome Criticism
Does it seem odd to you that some people want criticism, even seek it out? Bits and Pieces magazine observed: “Smart leaders . . . know they’re going to be wrong a certain percent of the time. That’s why they want these opposing points of view—to cut down on mistakes before they are made, and to correct past errors as promptly as possible.”
Just as others can see aspects of our appearance that we cannot—a turned collar, a crooked tie—so they can see aspects of our personality that we cannot. View their observations as helpful instead of threatening. Welcome their criticism as a chance to learn something. Make it a strengthening experience.
2. Control Your Worst Critic
Are you severely critical of yourself? Do you brood over your shortcomings? Or if someone alerts you to a flaw, do you mentally add it to a long list of unrelated weaknesses?
Dr. Harold Bloomfield points out: “If we are already plagued by self-criticism, we will be particularly troubled when we get criticism from others. Even if someone praises us and has only one small thing to criticize, we usually zero in on the inadequacy more than the things we did well.”
Be reasonable when assessing yourself. How may you determine what is reasonable? Imagine that a close friend is receiving similar criticism. What reaction would you want from him? Self-pity? Loss of temper? Proud rejection of good advice? No, likely you would hope that he would listen to the criticism with minimal hurt, assess it honestly, and use it for personal improvement.
Then, why not deal with yourself in the same way?
3. Ask for Details
“I don’t like your attitude!” Would you want someone to tell you that? No, remarks like that hurt, do they not?
Your best approach here is to ask for more specifics. In his book Conversationally Speaking,” Alan Garner explains: “Criticism is often given in generalities . . . Requesting particulars will enable you to find out exactly what the other person’s objections are. . . . Like a reporter, all you do is pose questions designed to find out who, what, when, where, why, and how.”
For example, to the above exclamation, you might respond: ‘What particular attitude did you have in mind?’ If he still is not specific enough, you may also ask: ‘Why is it annoying? Would you give me an example of when I did this?’ Motivated by your desire to communicate rather than to challenge, questions like these may help your critic and you to focus on specifics. They may reveal whether the criticism is valid or is an overreaction. And they give you a little more time to think the matter through.
4. Calm Your Critic
What if the one criticizing you is upset? Dr. David Burns recommends: “Whether your critic is right or wrong, initially find some way to agree with him or her.” How does this work to your advantage? It tends to disarm your critic, calm him down, and make him more open to communication.
On the other hand, if you instantly go on the defensive—as will be the tendency if the accusation against you is unjust—you may very well add to your critic’s ammunition. As Dr. Burns points out: “You will find that the intensity of your opponent’s attack increases!” Your best move, then, is to find some point of agreement before discussing any matters of conflict.
5. Focus on Content, Not Delivery
One mother received a complaint about her son’s behavior in the neighborhood. The complaint was delivered harshly and in a spirit of rivalry. The mother could easily have dismissed the neighbor’s remarks as unjustified or insincere, and she was certainly tempted to do so.
Instead, after determining that there was some truth to the criticism, she told her son: “It’s not always our favorite people who point out our faults, even when we stand to profit by it. Let’s use this as an opportunity for improvement.”
Has someone harshly reprimanded you? Perhaps that person has a problem with insensitivity or even jealousy. You or someone else may have an opportunity to help him with it at an appropriate time. But do not reject his observation just because he voiced it bluntly. Focus on the content of the criticism. Is it true? If it is, do not deny yourself this chance for growth.
6. Lessen the Severity
This may surprise you, but you have a measure of control over the frequency and severity with which you receive criticism. This principle is true particularly with regard to corrective criticism from persons in authority. How so?
Long ago, the black cumin plant was popular in Palestine. But unlike other plants, it was not threshed with heavy wheels or rollers of threshing instruments. Rather, it was threshed with a staff or rod. Why the specialized, gentler treatment? Because its small, tender seeds did not require heavy threshing and would, in fact, be damaged by it.
The Bible book of Isaiah uses the black cumin plant to illustrate varying degrees of discipline. When a person responds to lighter forms of correction, he will not need more severe treatment on the same matter.—Isaiah 28:26, 27.
So you can avoid severe correction by responding promptly to criticism in its lighter forms. As an example, are you aware that you are frequently late for work? Correct that habit now, before your employer talks to you about it. Has he already brought it to your attention? Respond immediately with punctuality, before he feels obliged to take more drastic measures.
You Can Cope
Receiving criticism can hurt. You may wish people would leave you alone, stop passing judgment on you, stop making ‘helpful suggestions.’
But wishing and resisting will not stop criticism. Being critical is part of human nature now. Furthermore, you do not have control over the measure of tact others use when giving unrequested advice.
Instead of fretting, take advantage of what you can control: your response. Use some of the suggestions above to cope with criticism and soften its sting. You will be glad you did.
If you are sensitive to receiving criticism, you may have difficulty giving it as well. Here are some guidelines to remember when delivering criticism:
Use few words. Misguided efforts to avoid hurting the feelings of the one you are criticizing often come from excess verbiage, which may send an unclear message.
Avoid picking on every minor fault you observe in a person. This irritates, and people will eventually dismiss your views as unimportant. They may even begin avoiding you. Everyone is imperfect and has faults. They cannot work on all of them at the same time. If the flaw you observe is not serious, let it pass. As the Bible observes: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Peter 4:8.