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The Art Of Taking Criticism: Get Curious?

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!”.

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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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