It’s easy to avoid criticism. Aristotle figured it out centuries ago: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
That sounds a lot like being dead, and since we know that even death is no protection against criticism, it makes sense to learn how to accept criticism, reframe it and deal with it.
How to handle negative comments
Here are some tips that should help:
- Know yourself. When you fully understand who you are and understand your strengths and weaknesses, it will be much easier examine criticism on its merits.
Some of the negative things people say will be true and some of it won’t. It’s our job to figure out which is which, and that is done best from a base of personal strength, self-awareness and honesty. (This will also keep us from being easily swayed by flattery, too.)
- Step back. It’s so easy to take offense at criticism, particularly if it is directed at something we believe in passionately.
It may feel like a personal attack – and could very well be one – but nothing is gained by reacting emotionally to criticism. If you approach the criticism with a cool head, you may learn something that will help you improve. Or it may help you decide who you need to avoid in the future.
- Consider the source. Who is the critic? What’s the motivation? Is it jealousy? Ignorance? Is it a competitor – for your job, your business or your sweetheart’s affection?
Also consider how was the criticism was given. Was it given in anger? Judgmental? Deliberately hurtful? Even the best-intentioned people can feel awkward in offering feedback, so the way it’s presented may not be phrased the best way. Look for intent first, content second.
- Listen. Just because someone was hurtful doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Let those comments “age” past the desire to lash out in retaliation.
If, during the conversation, you feel you need to respond in some fashion, be non-committal: “You may have a point.” “That’s something to consider.” “I understand what you’re saying.” This is how you handle criticism assertively.
It’s important to note that none of these responses agree with the criticism – they merely tell the other person that you’re hearing them.
- Check it out. Most people don’t know how to offer constructive feedback. Don’t let the harshness of their comments cause you to dismiss their comments out of hand.
Take that feedback to someone you know and trust – and not necessarily someone who agrees with you all the time. Get their reaction.
- Reframe it. Once you’ve decided there is merit in the criticism, use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Sometimes it requires a hard knock for us to learn what we need to learn.
- Admit it. If you’ve done something demonstrably wrong, admit it. Most people are kind and generous and are willing to forgive a mistake.
However, if it’s a judgment of you, instead of your actions, go back to “consider the source.” Is this someone you respect? Someone who knows you well and has your best interests at heart?
Keep in mind that even those who love us best are often motivated by their own needs and desires, not what’s in our best interest. Someone who criticizes you for leaving one job for another, for example, may want to keep you in place for reasons of their own.
- Trust yourself. If, after going through all this, you feel the criticism was unwarranted, let it go. You can approach from one of two ways: (1) agree to disagree or (2) recognize that there are some people whose opinions aren’t worth spit on the sidewalk.
Don’t let critics destroy you. Be strong enough to understand that you don’t need the approval of others.