Coping with Criticism

Published Categorized as behaviour management, coping strategies

In the same way our critical inner voice is loudest when we make a mistake, our unconscious reactions can most readily fire-up when we receive criticism. Few of us deal with criticism well because we haven’t gone beyond our unconscious response. This response might be to become defensive, ‘attack’ back, feel self-loathing, become self-conscious, catastrophise and exaggerate what was said until it looms even larger over your psyche, feel like you’ve had the wind knocked out of you, sulk, storm off or go and moan about the person who criticised us! A healthier response is to stay calm, be curious about the criticism and see what you can learn from it.

If you manage to set aside your usual response and allow some curiosity, there is an opportunity to reflect upon someone else’s experience of you or what you’ve done, and this can be really valuable. The other person might have seen something about you that you cannot see yourself. Their criticism might have touched a ‘nerve’ or self-belief established in childhood that would benefit some challenge. Or they might actually be genuinely urging you to do better, because they believe you can. Whatever is going on, some curiosity makes understanding and growth far more likely.

If you get to a point where you can comfortably listen to the criticism, you can then carefully consider any problem that it’s highlighting. You can switch things to the positive and start to focus on any solutions that could address what was criticised. Staying focused on what could sort out the issue that’s being criticised and not allowing emotions alone to run the show, takes practice but it ultimately makes positive outcomes far more likely.

(There is a chance, of course, that the criticism was harsh and unfair and that the person dished it out because they were in a bad place but this could never be realised unless you resisted automatic impulses and allowed the curiosity in.)

I think it’s also useful to consider how we give criticism. Some is born of flippant irritation and not necessarily helpful but constructive criticism can come from a place of love and/or concern. When you give criticism, what is your intention? Do you want to instigate change? If so, it can be useful to be clear about the positive change you want to initiate. You could argue that this shifts what you’re saying away from criticism, towards positive suggestion – which most people find far easier to receive.

So next time you receive some criticism, resist the temptation of ‘what you’ve always done’ and let in a whole bucket of curiosity instead!