Criticism: It’s something all of us will hear, and frankly need to hear at some point or another in our lives. If it wasn’t for periodic criticism, we would never improve. Does that mean it’s easy to take? Absolutely not! Fearing criticism can lead us less assertive behavior, which lead to feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. What did we learn in my first article on anger is one of the things that causes anger? Feeling frustrated or threatened, and I believe most of us can agree that criticism can easily lead to both of those feelings. Luckily, these feelings are often the result of faulty thinking patterns, and there are steps we can take to make criticism easier to handle.

Acknowledge

So you may have made a mistake at work, or in school, or at home. IT HAPPENS! Sometimes we may feel ashamed, or frustrated with ourselves for making a mistake, and try to cover it up and hide it from others. Then when that person finds out about the mistake, and that you tried to cover it up, they become more upset with you for not being honest. So if you’ve made a mistake acknowledge it!It’s okay! You can also acknowledge what you did wrong, without having to apologize for what you did.

Say for example, you forgot to put a meeting on your calendar, and ended up missing a meeting you were supposed to have with a coworker about a project. Instead, “Oh my goodness, I completely forgot to put that on my calendar… I’msooo sorry!! I can’t believe I did that.” You could try, “Yes, I did forget my meeting. I forgot to write the appointment on my calendar, and it slipped my mind. I will try to be more organized in the future, so this does not happen again.” This second response is to the point, straight-forward, and shows you are taking ownership of your problem. It’s also states you are taking an effort to make sure it does not happen again, and sounds much more professional for the workplace compared to begging for forgiveness for a mistake. This type of communication will ease assertive communication between you and the other person.

Boundaries

Ah, here it comes up again, boundaries. It is something we all need practice with, but forget to use sometimes. Using the same scenario above, your coworker may become upset after you missed their meeting and become angry themselves. There is a chance they may come to your desk and yell, “I can’t believe you missed our meeting, you are so rude and irresponsible.” Likely, you will want to respond in a defensive way, and snap back at the coworker. However, you also have the chance to turn the conversation into a positive one and change aggressive behavior into assertive behavior.

Should a coworker, or someone else for that matter, come to you in an aggressive manner, instead of snapping back, try saying: “Could we talk about this somewhere else for a minute?” Then take them someplace where people are not around, and you have a chance to talk in private. Then try stating, “I understand you are frustrated. Yes, it was irresponsible of me to forget our meeting. That being said, if you want to discuss this, I would appreciate it if we could discuss it in private, in a respectable way without name calling.” The other person may still be mad, they may also calm down and realize they came on quite strongly.  If you do not open the opportunity for assertive and healthy communication, it may stay an aggressive conversation.

Clarifying

Your year review is up, and you’re meeting with your boss. He states that he feels you are at times unorganized, and he would like you to work on improving that skill. Well, “unorganized” can be vague, especially when discussing overall importance. It would probably benefit both you, and your boss to ask for clarification. You may say to them, “So, I understand that you feel I am organized at times, and you would like me to improve this. Could you explain to what situations you are referring to? I just want to make sure I completely understand what it is you would like me to improve.”

Sometimes the other person may have simply forgot to clarify what they meant. By asking for clarification, it will also show the other person that you are really taking the effort to understand, and improve based on their constructive criticism.

Disagreeing

So let’s face it, we are never going to always agree with someone, whether it is our boss, spouse, coworker, friend, etc. There will always be times of disagreement at some point. Let’s say your one-year review at work with your boss did not go so well. Your boss states, “I heard you missed a meeting at work. That is very irresponsible, you are unorganized.” Well, you may have made a mistake, but that does not mean you are necessarily unorganized. There is a good chance that after hearing a comment like this, you will want to respond in a defensive way. You can stand up for yourself though, while remaining assertive instead of aggressive. You can say, “I disagree. I feel I am quite organized and responsible in my work. However, if you feel I have made a mistake, and that I may need to make some changes, I would be more than happy to discuss that.”

This statement above will likely diffuse the aggressive state of your boss, while still allowing you to establish boundaries and stand up for yourself.

In Sum…

Using this model of handling criticism – whether it’s constructive or not, should help diffuse feelings of anger and hostility. It can be possible to accept criticism and not take things so personally. It may take practice, but it is possible! Try some of these out the next time you receive criticism. Let me know, did it work for you? Did it not work for you? What suggestions would you have for others who are trying to get better at accepting criticism?

Therapists: for a handout on this topic, check out this free group worksheet from Stepping Stones for Vets

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

How to Handle Criticism
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