Let’s start this post off with a little dose of reality: every person gets criticized.
Just let that simmer for a moment. Every…person…gets…criticized. Once you understand that, once you realize that you are included in this group known as “every person,” it may help you to deal with criticism properly when it comes your way.
I realize the title of this post is deceiving. You cannot choose who criticizes you or what people criticize you about. You don’t have any control over when and where criticism occurs. If that’s where you spend all of your energy, then you’re going to run out of energy quickly. The only thing you have control over is your response to criticism. You get to make some choices. You get to decide how you will handle criticism rather than allowing the criticism to handle you.
Your world is full of people who have a different opinion, a different approach, and a different perspective than your own. That’s a good thing…right up until the moment when they feel empowered to share how their opinion is wiser than yours, their approach is better than yours, or their perspective is more valuable than yours. Or at the very least, they may just point out where you’re wrong without ever offering why they might be right.
So the next time you receive some criticism, be aware that you get to make some choices:
1. Choose to acknowledge the criticism.
When someone gives you criticism, receive it. Tell them, “thank you for that criticism,” (maybe not in those exact words). You may not agree with it or like it, but you show respect and a posture of humility when you acknowledge it. When your first response is to argue instead of acknowledge, you are allowing criticism to control you
2. Choose to respond rather than react to the criticism.
You don’t have to react to what has been said. You don’t have to do anything. You have the ability to choose how you will respond. If you need some time, simply say, “let me think about that.” You don’t have to get angry or get offended or get bitter…if you don’t want to. You decide what the best response will be.
3. Choose to learn from the criticism.
Even the most outlandish criticism can teach you something about the situation or the other person or yourself. At the very least, you are now more aware of a different opinion, approach, or perspective. But there might also be something valuable that you’ve missed. I’ve had student leaders claim to be teachable. I won’t know if that is really true or not until they’ve faced the criticisms in their life with a willingness to learn and grow.
4. Choose to let the criticism go.
This is really hard for some of us (me!). We may acknowledge the criticism, respond well to it in the moment, and even reflect on it to see what we can learn. Beyond that, we allow the criticism to eat away at us. We mull over it and we become paralyzed by it. It’s at this point, we must learn to let it go, to move forward, to release both the criticism and the one who offered it to us. I don’t know why encouraging words have such a short life span yet criticisms can linger on and on in our minds. Perhaps it’s time to forgive someone for saying something that has hurt you or offended you. Or perhaps it’s time to forgive yourself.
5. Choose to take it personally or not.
Some will begin their criticism with the words, “don’t take this personally.” Hogwash. Even when you try to separate the action from the person, there’s always something personal about it. Conventional wisdom may tell you not to take it personally or develop a thicker skin. I think you have to make that call on a case by case basis. There’s some criticisms that you might want to take very personally and others that you let go quickly and move on. Taking criticism personally depends on a lot of different factors (who said it?, do I trust them?, what’s the motive?, etc).
When we can view our response to criticism as a choice, a choice we get to make, it can free us up from some of the angst and anxiety that goes along with receiving it.
What do you think? What kinds of choices have you made when it comes to responding to the criticism of others?