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Criticism Cornered


I'll confess, I'm a thin-skinned girl.  All my life I've heard about the beauties of "thick skin" and how wonderful it is to not care what anyone says or thinks.  For years I wanted to be that person that let everything roll off my back and then I grew up . . .

Criticism, whether delivered delicately & appropriately or crudely & rudely is a part of life that we all must learn to work with.  Criticism can be incredibly helpful and can lead to those rare "aha" moments.   It can also be crippling and lead to fear of failure, fear of trying and low self-worth.

The wonderful part about criticism is that we get to choose what to do with it.

Like any other aspect of life the way we handle criticism can't be taken to extremes.  I propose that letting everything roll off our backs and not acknowledging criticism is just as dangerous as internalizing every piece of feedback we receive rendering us an emotional cripple.  Here is a healthy criticism-handling process that once mastered (and I'm still working on that one) allows us to control our reaction to criticism and grow and develop accordingly.

Step 1:  Acknowledge the Criticism-  This is often the hardest part.  Some of us want to well up into tears and emotionally break down.  Others throw up massive walls and act as if they don't care.  The reaction in the moment is the most difficult to control.  My advice?  Take it and remove yourself from the situation.  If you're being assaulted with insults- get out of there.  If your boss is giving you feedback, then maybe ask some follow up questions to clarify what you need to understand.  Give yourself enough time to understand and then get out of the situation.  Even the most constructive criticism can lead to tears or anger. This is fine, just get to an appropriate place (discretely) to process the emotions and move on to step 2.

Step 2:  Write It Down- Whether you were told you were fat (like my tiny friend at the gym was told) or that you are ineffective at your job, write it down.  Write it down whether or not you actually believe it.  Sometimes we unknowingly internalize criticism that is false and we blow off criticism that could enhance and change our lives.  Regardless of your personal feelings and thoughts on the matter, write it down.

Step 3:  Evaluate It- When you are less emotionally attached quantify and give examples of the criticism.  Here are two examples
                1-  Tiny friend was told in her initial intake at a new gym that she had a dangerously high BMI:
Her initial reaction was "that's ridiculous" and she was ready to blow it off, but it nagged at her enough to want to explore it further.  She knew her weight was healthy for her height but set up her yearly exam with her doctor to talk about it.  With her doctor they did a blood panel and a series of routine examinations.  She was deemed healthy and perfectly fit.
               2-  A client was working in a sales organization and was told that her language with customers was often rude and harsh.  After absorbing the criticism (i.e. crying in the bathroom) she returned to her boss and her training mentor to ask specifics about her language.  She knew she wasn't swearing.  They were able to play back tapes from a few phone calls and point out the particulars in her language.  Once she heard the tapes and their feedback, she knew they were right.

Step 4:  Take the Appropriate Action Steps- The most important part of this step is taking control of the criticism and becoming a better person in the process.  If after evaluating the criticism you feel it really doesn't apply to you  -maybe it was a friend harshly blowing off steam or someone else projecting their own insecurities onto you- then let it go. I know it's easier said than done.  One way to do this is to write out the criticism on paper and then shred it up and throw it away.  It's a physical reminder that it was not applicable to you.  However, if the criticism is valid, this is where you get to control your reaction to it.

 My tiny friend decided that she wasn't going to fret over her BMI, since she knew she was healthy, but that she'd like to lose some extra fat.  She began closely monitoring and adapting her diet and then added in an extra day of cardio and intensified her strength training.  She took rational steps to address the issue without internalizing it, letting it weigh her down or holding her back.

My client acknowledged the criticism she received and asked for ideas from her boss and mentor.  Together they came up with an action plan that included weekly roll plays, reviewing tapes of her calls and response scripting.

The important part of handling criticism is remembering that you are in control!  No one has to make you feel less than who you are. It's also okay to process your initial reaction to it.  Keep your reaction as professional and socially acceptable as possible, but criticism (especially valid criticism) can have a bite.  It stings.   Feeling the sting is natural.  But there is so much we can learn from even the most poorly given criticism.  We can be better.  We can grow.

We all know that we can't believe everything we read and for many of us, it's time to apply that same discernment to what people say about it.  Learning to process what we choose to believe about ourselves might be the best part about criticism.  I hope this helps a little.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and reactions.  How do you respond to criticism?

Have an amazing weekend friends!

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