"Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing"

Aristotle

 

Receiving criticism isn't always fun. However, there are ways to handle it in a less hurtful way and - sometimes - get something good out of it. 

 

Here are a few pointers I have found useful when dealing with criticism. 

 

Count to 10 before you speak.

 

If you react immediately to criticism then you'll often react in a knee-jerk manner. And the words that come out may be overemotional, vicious and unnecessary. Count to at least 10 after someone has criticised you. Then respond. This simple way of calming yourself down and regaining some perspective can save you a lot of trouble and help you avoid saying something you can't take back. It's a good approach to avoid creating unnecessary problems.

 

Handle it like Buddha

 

Maybe you've heard this one before. It's a great and practical way to look at criticism. It might be extra useful when dealing with angry, destructive criticism and nasty personal attacks.

 

"A man interrupted one of the Buddha's lectures with a flood of abuse. Buddha waited until he had finished and then asked him, "If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?" 

"To the one who offered it," said the man. 

"Then," said the Buddha, "I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself."

 

Simply don't accept the gift of a criticism. You don't have to. Then it still belongs to the person who offered it. 

 

Take both praise and criticism evenly. 

 

My mindset for praise - that I try to stick to as much as I can - is that it's cool and I appreciate it. It's great to get praise, but I seldom get overly excited about it and jump up and down shouting enthusiastically.

 

A great upside of this mindset is that when you receive the opposite - negative criticism - you can often observe it calmly without too much wild, negative emotions blocking the way. And you can often appreciate that piece of criticism too (if there is something to learned from it). 

 

Basically this mindset is about not caring too much about what other people think. If you care too much about what other people think then you easily become pretty needy and let others control how you feel. Both how good and bad you feel. 

 

So you move from depending on external validation to depending more on internal validation. You validate yourself more and more and then you need less of outside validation. Don't take this too far though. Don't become that arrogant jerk who never listens to criticism no matter how valid it is.

 

If there is nothing to be learned from some piece of criticism you received or it's just nonsense ravings and insults then with this mindset you just go: "Ok". You don't care that much and you quickly forget about it. Instead of spending the rest of the day being angry, sad and riled up.

 

Shifting into this mindset isn't that easy. You can slip quite a bit. But if you learn more about your mind - especially about your ego as Eckhart Tolle describes it in books like the Power of Now  and A New Earth  - then this understanding gives you more control over your reactions and less knee-jerk responses.

 

Listen to the criticism and get the details. 

 

Instead of attacking the other person(s) for their words and building a hostile atmosphere try to calm it down. Try to remain level-headed, open and figure out how this can help you. Even when someone blurts out something not too constructive like "Your work/blog/product sucks!" you might want to ask a few open-ended questions like:

 

- Why does it suck?

- How can I improve it?

- How can we solve this?

 

If they can't answer your questions then they are probably just lashing out. But there is sometimes valuable information in negative criticism. Things no one else may tell you. Try to get practical and concrete details about what's wrong. Perhaps there is already a solution to the problem but you need more information to realise that. By improving the communication and making it more specific and detailed you can come closer to understanding each other and solving the problem. 

 

And if you can understand, help and change the mood of the one delivering the criticism he or she will probably appreciate it quite a bit. And you may have turned a potential conflict into a valuable relationship.

 

Be careful with using email.

 

Since words are only a small part of communication - the remaining and much larger part consists of voice tonality and body language - it may be wise to not reply to criticism via email if possible. It's probably better to get the person who sent such an email on the phone or go see him/her in person. This can help you to avoid creating a whole mess of misunderstandings. Avoiding email is also useful to keep in mind when you are about to criticise someone.



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