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The Art Of Taking Criticism: Get Curious?

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The Art Of Taking Criticism: Get Curious?

“When I am criticized, I feel ____.”

If you are like most people, you complete the aforementioned sentence with words like, “hurt, angry, defensive, dejected, disappointed, embarrassed, put-down, failure, no good, resentful” or other words that communicate the same meaning.

Indeed, few of us come home, call up a friend, or tell our partner, “Hey, I had a great day today… I got criticized.” Few people raise their hand when I ask, “How many of you like to be criticized”

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The reality is that for most people, criticism often arouses anger, anxiety, conflict in their relationships. At work, it often sours relationships with the boss, colleagues, staff, and clients too. At home, there is a plethora of research indicating that frequently mismanaged criticism is a prelude to an unhappy marriage, and parenting skills that impede (rather than enhance) a child’s development.

Yet, there is an equal amount of research that indicates giving and taking criticism productively is a key attribute of successful individuals, marriages, and organizations. Here, criticism is used as a tool to promote intimacy, enhance performance, and develop positive relationships.

What can you do to enhance your ability to take criticism productively? (Giving criticism productively will be for another day.) Perhaps hearing about one of my recent teaching experiences will get you started.

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Not long ago, I gave the top 100 partners of one of the world’s largest service firms a presentation on criticism.

“What’s the best way to learn about yourself?” was the first question. It was the class opener, if you will. “Take some psychological testing,” was one response. “Go to a therapist,” was another. Somebody earnestly offered, “Reflect and take stock of yourself.”

“Here’s another,” I told them. “Ask for criticism.” My suggestion surprised the group and they became more attentive.

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I explained that criticism is all around us – in our work relationships, marriages, parenting, and friends. It is everywhere. Received openly, it enhances all aspects of our lives, including making a performance appraisal more useful, making a marriage more satisfying, and developing our leadership capacities. Literally dozens of studies support that giving and taking criticism well is crucial to our success in life.

Yet, for most of us, hearing criticism about ourselves (or our work) is upsetting. In our minds, we think of criticism as a hostile attack. In our bodies, we feel it with a fear and anxiety response. This response translates into defensive behavior, which more often than not decelerates our learning and often prevents us from profiting from the information given, to say nothing of how it adds conflict to our personal relationships. How many films have you seen where criticism between daughter and mother, father and son, brothers and sisters, poisons the relationship? I can name dozens.

“Be curious about criticism,” is the prescription for regulating your defensive arousal. Adapt the attitude that “the person is telling me something he or she thinks is important. I need to know more.” This allows you to approach criticism with a friendlier attitude, and as a result, you can become more physically relaxed and learn. Curiosity “arousal” is pleasant.

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To spark your curiosity and buffer your defensiveness, think of criticism as “information that can help me grow.”

Accelerate your learning by soliciting criticism from those around you. Try and phrase it positively: “What are some things that I could be doing better?” Not: “What am I doing wrong?”

When you hear the response, delay your own – which most likely, even with your new curious attitude, will be defensive. Instead, thank them for their thoughts and spend the next few days not retreating from them, but instead exploring the implications and applications of what they told you. It won’t take long for you to realize that you will not die from what you heard. Criticism is not a “lion, tiger, or bear – “Oh, my!”.

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Evaluate criticism with curiosity. This attitude will help you discover the perceptions of others so that you can profit from them.

Please note: Chances are great that you will be criticized before you go to sleep. When it happens, please think about what you just read. Thank you. Leave a comment below. I would love to hear how you typically respond to criticism.

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Last Updated on November 18, 2021

10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

  • honest
  • reliable
  • competent
  • kind and compassionate
  • capable of taking the blame
  • able to persevere
  • modest and humble
  • pacific and can control anger.

The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

Abigail Van Buren

3. How does this person take the blame?

Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

5. Read their emails.

Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

  • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
  • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
  • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
  • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
  • Too many question marks can show anger
  • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

6. Watch out for the show offs.

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

8. Their empathy score is high.

Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

“One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

Stendhal

 10. Avoid toxic people.

These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

  • Envy or jealousy
  • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
  • Complaining about their own lack of success
  • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
  • Obsession with themselves and their problems

Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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