HomeOpinion & AnalysisCan you handle criticism?

Can you handle criticism?

Famed writer Elbert Hubbard is known to have said: “To escape criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Nobody likes being criticised, but unfortunately, it is a fact of life. Criticism can be crippling and the fear of being criticised can be catastrophic. It can prevent you from taking those huge leaps that lead to greatness and hinder you from reaching your full potential. To be able to respond to criticism with nobility and detachment is an important life skill, which few people have.

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The beginning of the new year is often characterised by great enthusiasm in goal setting and life planning yet many individuals are quick to set these aside when they hit tumultuous times and the year is not progressing as planned or hoped. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid criticism, especially when you put yourself out there and do something bold and daring, but there are ways to learn how to handle criticism with grace. No one is perfect, we all have flaws and we can either embrace them as small foibles that make us who we are, or work on improving them.

Criticism falls into two categories — constructive and destructive. Sometimes when people give us helpful tips about how we can improve, commonly referred to as “constructive criticism,” we immediately go into a defensive mode and interpret it as destructive criticism. When someone is sincerely trying to give you tips and insights as to how you can better some area of your life, this should not be interpreted as mean or malicious. Rather than immediately dismissing what this person has to say, give it some thought and really consider whether it has merit.

How do you take criticism?

The more emotional we are, the more limited our thinking becomes, and the more questionable our reactions are. Handling criticism has much in common with handling failure, and indeed, criticism and failure frequently present themselves together. The natural immediate response to criticism is to feel discouraged and unhappy.

However, as with failure, criticism has a very positive side. In the first place, if you are being criticised, it may well be an indication that you have taken a risk and chosen to tackle something which is a challenge to you. Receiving such criticism may be infinitely preferable to being praised for something which is simple and predictable.

Secondly, as with failure, criticism may be regarded as valuable feedback and a necessary part of the learning process. In some situations, criticism may be unjustified. If you feel that this is the case, you should try to respond courteously, but assertively. This may be difficult, especially if the other person is your senior. Where criticism is justified and presented to you in a constructive manner, you should express gratitude to your critic and seek to take appropriate corrective action. This may in some circumstances require you to make an apology. It can be difficult to deal with destructive, hostile criticism, and this can be especially hurtful to somebody who has low self-esteem. The main aim is to remain assertive and not mirror the critic’s behaviour by responding aggressively. Since destructive criticism often arises from jealousy and spitefulness, the best policy may be to ignore it. Even constructive criticism can feel really uncomfortable. However, gentle feedback which includes drawing out all of your strengths allows you to learn something about yourself. Being defensive is not a helpful response because you will miss the point if you immediately react defensively. It is important to try not to automatically take it personally, react aggressively, immediately try and prove the other person wrong or to concentrate on finding fault in the other person. It is important to aim at developing a positive attitude to any criticism which comes your way. See it as a way of gaining self-understanding and as a contributor to your personal development. Unjust and destructive criticism can make serious demands on your inter-personal skills, and it can therefore be worthwhile developing these skills by attending assertiveness and other similar workshops.

Dealing with the biggest critic in yourself

Self-criticism and negative self-talk can be extremely damaging for your self-esteem. You should seek to nurture your self-esteem so that you are less susceptible to the negative effects of criticism. By criticising ourselves all the time, we open the door for others to join the party. If you have a strong sense of confidence, one that really comes from within, you will find it less challenging to engage with criticism. When you find yourself falling into the trap of self-criticism, it is important to take time to write down your achievements/accomplishments and also devote time for making loud affirmations to yourself regularly.

Cynthia Chirinda-Hakutangwi is an organisational and personal development consultant, life coach, author, and strategist. Her latest book, The Connection Factor: Unlocking your Individual Potential Through your Connections, provides some relational nuggets to individuals who seek to establish meaningful, relevant and fulfilling relationships that can unlock their potential. Looking at improving your career, personal effectiveness, communication skills, relationships, focus, faith and happiness? Wholeness Incorporated Coaching offers you strategies you can implement today to review your progress and achieve your goals. E-mail: cynthia@wholenessinc.com. LinkedIn: Cynthia Chirinda Hakutangwi. Mobile: +263 717 013 206

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