“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism” ~ Norman Vincent Peale.
You’re expressing a thought or an idea to a group of friends or co-workers.
And all of a sudden it comes out of nowhere. An interruption, a critical remark, or a probing question that catches you off-guard.
Your confidence dries up and you struggle to regain your composure. You feel betrayed, confused, humiliated.
Some people are more afraid of criticism than death. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you’ve allowed an experience of criticism in the past to hold you back from speaking up or being yourself in front of others. But maybe you’re also tired of hiding.
Here’s a hard truth, as long as you’re breathing (and even after you’ve stopped breathing), you will be criticized, mostly behind your back. The ones that reach your ears will hurt but they need not stop you from showing up in the world.
4 strategies to help you deal with criticism
First, a word on the various types of criticism. Criticism comes in many forms, but in my experience it’s often a combination of these qualities: helpful or not helpful versus well-meaning or mean-spirited. I believe the following strategies to deal with criticism will help in most cases, but clearly it’s more difficult to deal with mean-spirited criticism, even when it’s helpful.
For tips of dealing with more difficult cases, see my post on how to deal with toxic people.
Ok, here are the strategies:
1. Acknowledge your vulnerability
The first step to dealing with criticism is to acknowledge your vulnerability. Recognize that your first automatic reaction will be defensiveness, fear, or anger. Don’t try to suppress them but allow the feelings to move through you quickly.
2. Wait to respond
This could be a few seconds, a few hours, or a few days depending on the circumstances. The type and intensity of the criticism matters. If you’re able to acknowledge that you’ll be most vulnerable in the very beginning, it will help you recognize the value of waiting or not responding at all.
You’ll be less likely to act out of defensiveness to protect your ego and do or say something you’ll later regret.
3. Be curious
Resolve always to learn something from an encounter with a critic. You may actually gain valuable information or perspective that strengthens your understanding, even if your position remains unchanged.
But if the criticism was well founded, admit your error, apologize if needed, learn from the mistake, and move on.
Additionally, you’ll likely learn something about your critic or their point of view that allows you to empathize with them. This creates the possibility for more positive interactions with people you may disagree with.
4. See criticism as an act of love
Most of us tend to see any criticism as an act of aggression, but what if we turned that idea on it’s head? What if we saw criticism instead as an act of love?
Think about it. Someone cared enough to write you a note, or offered a word of instruction that may be difficult to hear in the moment, but may contribute to your personal growth long-term.
Whether or not the person actually offered their criticism in love is immaterial. What matters more is that you receive the criticism in this spirit. You’ll experience more peace and less inner turmoil.
Don’t let criticism hold you back
If you’re doing something worthwhile in the world, you will be criticized.
If you’re doing nothing or hiding from the world, you will be criticized too.
So wouldn’t you rather do something worthwhile? Don’t let the threat of being criticized hold you back.
Resolve to learn from each encounter and become stronger in the process.