How to Handle Negative Criticism
What to do when someone criticizes your work or words.
So your latest masterpiece is under attack. It hurts right? Do either of these thoughts keeps running through your mind?
“I deserve more respect.”
“I guess I am a failure after all.”
If so, you have too small a view of your identity.
I was in this situation recently. I struggled long, wrestling with a design problem. Finally, inspiration hit and I created a masterpiece. My delight turned to despair when it was not accepted. How was I to handle the situation?
Step 1: Divorcing Ourselves From Our Work
Let’s imagine a painter painting a self-portrait. As the paint dries, a cat pierces the canvas with its claws. Would we assume that the artist is disfigured and wounded? Of course not! Is it possible that someone could dislike the painting and still like the painter? Of course! The painter and the work are not the same. The same is true of you.
You may believe that you are a failure because you fail. You feel disrespected or attacked. This thinking does not line up with reality. Successful people fail and come under heavy criticism. Actions and opinions do not define us. Too many of us define ourselves by with what we have done. Negative comments about our work then turn into personal attacks. You may feel this way right now. Try to stay calm and objective. You are not under attack. You are not a failure.
Warning: A related pitfall comes when we judge the critic from the criticism. He or she is not necessarily mean or ignorant. Even loving people say hurtful things. Even intelligent people are sometimes foolish. I dare say that you might have done those things on occasion. Labelling the critic will only get in the way of the next step.
Step 2: Listen Intently To The Criticism
Criticism can be helpful. Finding its value is like panning for gold. One needs to sift through worthless comments, opinions and information for the treasure. Being humble and listening with an open mind is necessary. It is so easy to be dismissive, thinking our ideas are best. On the other hand, assuming others are always right is destructive too. The correct path lies between these extremes. On it, one examines each idea before reaching conclusions. It is a path of inspiration and learning. As you listen, you will want to consider the following things:
Is the critic qualified to comment?
The critic’s personality, position and purpose should be considered. Opinions of uninformed, negative or jealous people are of little worth. Knowledgeable, intuitive, and caring people deserve our audience. Cultural background, mental health, and personal experience will play a part as well. If the person has authority over you, you should listen. Understanding them is still important.
Warning: We are not very well equipped to judge purpose and motives. It is best to let the person spell it out themselves.
In what context is this criticism being given?
People talk and act differently in different situations. Think about who else was present, time constraints, etc.. It could save you a lot of frustration and embarrassment.
What was said?
It is not safe to assume a person’s thoughts or intents. For example, if a guest says her food is cold, is she saying that you are a poor host? Certainly not. Is she even saying that it tasted bad? Not necessarily. She may have enjoyed her meal and had a marvellous time. Evaluating what was said (and only what was said) brings us that much closer to our goal. Just make sure you have the facts straight.
Step 3: Move On To Do Greater Things
Now comes the decision. What are you going to do now? Don’t get stuck in emotion or evaluation. Hold on to any truth you found and get rid of the rest. Do you have any apologies or repairs to do? Do you have another idea to chase or solution to find? Remember when we were talking about how successful people’s failures and criticism? Their success comes from how they respond to these things. If they try something that does not work, they keep trying until they find something that does. If their genius is not understood, they continue anyway. The point is that they learn from their life experiences and move on to do greater things.
Conclusion: Handling Criticism Like An Expert
How should you respond to criticism? Should we step aside, stand our ground or compromise? Before we reach that answer, we must set emotion aside and understand what is going on. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification or to share your reasoning. Excuses, accusations and insults will not advance your cause. Instead, push irrelevant criticism away and head helpful comments. You will be successful if you do.