Reality Check: The Sharp Edge

Criticism is a double-edged sword, and that sword can have one very sharp edge. I say it’s “double-edged,” because some criticism may be intended to be helpful (referred to as “constructive criticism.”) More likely, however, criticism results in hurt rather than help.
Criticism that is delivered with genuinely helpful intent might be better referred to as feedback. Honest, useful feedback gives us information. It’s essential if we are to learn and grow, but it’s different from criticism.
Dr. William Glasser lists criticism as one of the seven deadly habits for relationships, and he’s not alone. Way back in the 1930’s, Dale Carnegie identified criticism as a barrier to “winning friends and influencing people.”
However, people will still criticize. Sooner or later, both you and I will find ourselves on the receiving end. What do we do then?
It’s easy for me to write, “How we take criticism is up to us. We are in control of how we respond.” That’s true, but like many things that are true, it’s not easy to do.
If you are struggling with the perception that “everyone is always criticizing me,” then here are some thoughts for you.
Start with a little evaluation. Where is the criticism coming from? Is it one source? Or many sources? In the workplace? At home? With friends? Family?
Criticism in a workplace environment is something of a special case, as it may be a legitimate response to what you are doing. Not everyone is a skilful communicator, and sadly, many people don’t know how to deliver feedback in a helpful way. Receiving criticism doesn’t necessarily mean that you are dealing with a workplace bully who hates you.
Look beyond the hurt or indignity that you feel to see if there is useful information in the criticism. Ask questions. Be respectful. No need to be defensive; that only rewards the criticizer with power. For example, if the criticism is, “I’ve told you 15 times not to do it that way,” ignore your pride. Ask, “Please show me while you explain it again.”
Practice defusing the hostility. Say, “Thank you,” when your critic points out your errors. Appreciate every positive comment, no matter how tiny. This isn’t suggesting that you push down your anger or resentment; this is different. Choose, with purpose, to practice self-restraint.
The ability to work with difficult people is a valuable skill. If you see good long-term potential in your workplace, then consciously extract every scrap of useful information from your criticizer. Use it to improve your skills.
If it’s a personal relationship, I’d still suggest looking for the information contained in criticism. For example, “You never buy me anything nice” has a different objective than, “You don’t go to the doctor when you should.” There is information in both criticisms. What does that information tell you about the relationship?
If you want good relationships, you’ll refrain from criticizing.
I don’t pretend that criticism is a gift to us. But as it’s inevitable that we’ll be criticized anyway, we can choose to respond by extracting any information that may be tucked inside that unpleasant wrapping. When we look carefully, we may be surprised—we may even be enlightened about the person who’s given it to us!
How do you deal with criticism?

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