5 Tips for Handling CriticismWhen you judge another, you do not define them; you define yourself as someone who needs to judge. ~Wayne Dyer
I wish I had read this statement by Wayne Dyer when I was a teenager. In fact, if I had taped it to my bedroom mirror where I would have seen it every day, it might have sunk in. And maybe I would have done some things very differently.
Some of us are just naturally pleasers. As a kid, I really worked hard to get great grades, because I knew my parents would be pleased. I joined a swim team and took on extra practices, so I could win my events and please my coach and my parents. I was devastated if I received criticism from anyone I loved and/or respected — I had failed somehow.
Enter my first really serious relationship after college: I was wonderfully in love, and we moved in together, ready to build a life together. Gradually, it began to creep in. First, it was meals I prepared — something was always not quite right.
Then it was the clothes I chose or my hairstyle. Pretty soon, it was almost everything I did, no matter how inconsequential. There was always a piece of criticism. And my response? It was the same as when I was growing up — I had failed somehow.
My epiphany came when we went to meet his folks. After a weekend in that house, I realized he was certainly his father’s son. Here was an obviously successful businessman who should have been very happy with his life.
Observing as an Outsider
Instead, he was someone who found fault with the way the yard man had trimmed the bushes. He criticized his neighbors because they painted their trim an ugly color. And he criticized his wife rather continuously — the steak was just a bit too well done, her skirt was a bit too long, the new lamp was not quite right for the table it was on.
Having the chance to observe this behavior as an outsider was the best thing that could have happened to me.
The relationship lasted about another two months. At first, I tried to change things.
- I explained how his criticism made me feel.
- I stopped him when he began to be judgmental.
- I ignored the critical comments.
- I came to realize that he probably would never change — it was just a part of who he was.
The breakup was painful for both of us. But as I packed that last load into my car, it was if I had sprouted wings! And those wings took me to a very different place — one of independence, sense of self and true comfort in my own skin.
Today, I run into critical people, of course — at work, among family members and even among my circle of friends. But, after a few years of self-analysis, with the help of a great counselor, I have learned exactly how to deal with criticism in healthy ways.
1. Determine Who You Allow Criticism From
If your boss is not fully pleased with something you have done, s/he has the right to speak to you about it. If a relative doesn’t approve of your lifestyle, s/he doesn’t have the right to criticize.
Only accept criticism from those to whom you have given the right.
2. Be Objective: Is it Warranted?
If so, accept it, but put it in a box in your mind. Do this visually.
It is only taking up a little space of who you are, and it does not define you. You made a mistake, you do what you can to fix it and you move on to all of the other boxes in your mind that hold all of your greatness!
3. Ignore It
If it isn’t warranted or comes from someone who does not have your permission, ignore it. You can do this in two ways.
- Say nothing. Walk away, change the subject or end the conversation entirely
- My personal favorite is this: Simply say, “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way.” You have really told that person that their criticism is unimportant to you and that you will give it no credence. And you have done it so gracefully!
4. If You’re Angry or Offended
Don’t respond or start an argument — it will end badly, and you are too emotional. Instead, say something like, “Let me think about that for a while. I really need some time to process what you have said.”
Take some deep breaths, calm yourself, wait a while (sometimes I have to wait 24 hours or more) and then decide if the criticism is warranted or not.
5. Smile and Say “Thank You”
If the criticism was warranted and from someone who has your permission, you will mean this, and it will actually make you feel better.
And if it is unwarranted and/or from someone who does not have permission, you will have “thrown them off their game.” If they don’t get the response they want (you upset or angry), they will eventually learn to take the criticism elsewhere!