“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Criticism can be a painful thing or a tool for growth. When it’s valid it provides insight, when it’s an unjust attack, it can be a source of discouragement.
Here are some tips to use when faced with criticism that’s aimed at you. Remember to keep in mind that you are responsible for how you respond and think about criticism and you should closely examine why you feel like you do when you are criticized or when you criticize others.
“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.”
– Emmet Fox
“Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them.”
1. Accept that criticism will always be here.
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing”
Since criticism often is a form of self-expression for the one critiquing or based in a lack of understanding there is little you can do to escape it. You can of course minimize your interactions with highly negative and critical people. Or keep your focus on what you are doing rather than the critics.
But whatever you do some people will probably feel a need to criticise.
Whatever you do there will always be people who don’t like what you are doing.
And that’s OK. That’s normal.
2. Understand through experience.
“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.”
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
– Benjamin Franklin
It’s easy to fall into the trap of criticizing things because, well, you feel like it’s wrong. But do you really understand what you are criticising?
From my own experience I have found that one tends to become less critical of things when you have experienced it for yourself and have an understanding. Instead of just knowledge about it.
It’s easy to be the armchair general, knowing what is always right. Especially in hindsight. It makes you feel good and like you are right.
But in the end the credit does not belong to this person.
3. Keep your focus on what’s helpful for you.
“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.”
– William Faulkner
If you’re in the arena you are doing, failing, learning and repeating that all over again and again. You doing something you think is worthwhile.
It’s helpful to use your focus selectively. If you look at the sides of the arena you may see people booing and some people cheering you on. But to really get the results you want you have to focus. Focus on what you are doing in the arena. Keep your eyes on the ball.
The thing is if you take in the positive voices and let them define you then you have to take in the negative voices too.
How can you get past that problem? You can listen to them all, but don’t have a need or craving deep inside for any of them. Don’t seek yourself on other people’s opinions. Instead, validate yourself by focusing on the positive things you think and do. And get to know who you really are, not what other people think you are.
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 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. This allows you to appreciate that piece of criticism too (if there is something to learn from it).
Basically this mindset is about not caring too much about what other people think. If you do then you easily become pretty needy and let others control how you feel. Both how good and bad you feel.
4. Don’t accept the gift.
“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.
This is of course easier said than done. To have everyone own their own feelings and opinions instead of letting them be a part of you or something you feel responsible for isn’t easy.
Still, one can do it if one is aware of what Buddha describes. You can then choose to decline the gift rather than thinking that you have to accept it. Now, this might not work every time, especially if you are feeling very emotional and vulnerable. Still, it can be helpful to keep in mind.
This also ties into the previous tip. When you really need and crave other people’s positive – and perhaps negative Â– opinions to define yourself it becomes hard to reject the gift since you don’t see/don’t want to see it as something separate from yourself. You are all wrapped up in it.
5. Who are you talking about?
“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”
When you criticize someone what does that say about you? And when someone is criticising you who are they really revealing?
If someone makes a personal attack or just let’s the destructive words flow then remember that criticism isn’t always about you. Criticism can be a way for the one critiquing to release pent up anger, frustration or jealousy. Or a way to reinforce that his/her viewpoint or belief is the right one. Or s/he may have habit of getting others involved emotionally – baiting them – to build a negative spiral, an argument/fight or to get attention. It’s about him/her. Not about something you did.
It can have a calming effect to remember this. And to remember that the other person is still human and might just be having a bad day or week.
This does of course not just go for “the other people” out there. It goes for you and me too. Whenever you feel a need to be critical, ask yourself why. Whenever you have been critical towards someone who didn’t deserve it remember that you are hurting yourself and reinforcing your current state of mind and self-esteem level by this behaviour.
6. There is a better choice.
“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
– Charles Schwab
So, what can one do instead of criticising someone to get them to improve? One way is by lifting them up instead. By focusing on what they are doing well. And on how they can improve, rather how they are screwing things up.
As Schwab says, and as you probably have noticed in your own life, the spirit of for instance the workplace can have a great effect on your on your own mood, productivity, enthusiasm and motivation.
Energy flows where attention goes. So whatever is focused on – criticism or lifting people up – will expand and become stronger. One may think that harsh criticism may help and get results. It may just bring people down though and pollute the emotional environment.