Last column, I offered suggestions regarding workplace evaluations and ways to prepare so as to gain some control over what can be a stressful situation.
The workplace is not the only venue where we are evaluated! What’s happening when your mother-in-law suggests that you are not doing a very effective job of bringing up her grandchildren? How about when your loving spouse tells you that you are driving too fast? Or your child turns up her nose at the food you have offered?
Those are examples of people evaluating your behaviour, and even though they are informal, they are evaluations nevertheless.
Keep in mind that people give you information, that’s all. It’s up to you to assess that information, and to choose whether to take it to heart, ignore it, argue about it, be hurt by it, or take action because of it.
For example, your mother-in-law declares, “Ginny’s children are so much better-behaved than yours!” It may seem that you have no choice but to feel hurt, discouraged, or angry. Do you have other options?
- Consider delaying your first impulse, particularly if you perceive that the comment was intended to hurt or anger you. The first response that leaps to mind may not be one that you want to live with.
- Try substituting “thanks” for your instinctive response. Instead of lashing out in anger, “Well, Ginny doesn’t have to work all day!” or with hurt, “How can you say that when I try so hard?” try this effective multi-purpose response: “Thank you. I’ll think about that.”
- Recognize that your perception of the intention may not be on target. It is possible that your mother-in-law wants to hurt your feelings. Or perhaps she sees you struggling and is trying (in an ineffective way) to help you.
- Ask yourself, is this helpful information? Before slamming the door on what you perceive as hurtful criticism, consider it for yourself. Is there any validity? Can you use the information to improve the situation?
- Ask for clarification. It can be interesting to ask, “What do you think I should be doing differently?” Asking doesn’t commit you to making a change. It doesn’t even commit you to agreeing that there is anything wrong. However, it’s a lot easier for your critic to point out problems than to offer solutions, isn’t it? Asking for clarification can not only be enlightening, it puts some onus back on the complainer to provide solutions, rather than only offering complaints.
- Remember that you can choose how to respond. It may help to consciously choose a different perception—for example, choose to perceive that your mother-in-law loves you and wants the best for you. Ultimately, no one can “make” you get upset.
We humans don’t much like to be on the receiving end of criticism, do we? It helps to keep that in mind when we are on the other side, evaluating someone else. Even (or especially) when couched in the guise of “constructive criticism,” the recipient may still perceive our helpful information as hurtful criticism.
How do you handle criticism from those close to you?