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16 Tips to Survive Brutal Criticism (and Ask for More)

16 Tips to Survive Brutal Criticism (and Ask for More)
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    “You suck.”

    Everyone encounters criticism, whether it is a boss pointing out falling performance, a bad review for your book, or even self-criticism after an embarrassing slip-up. Your ability to digest that criticism and make use of it says a lot about your character. Even better is to be the kind of person who can take a sharp, verbal critique, stand up and ask for more.

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    People are Too Nice

    Most people won’t tell you what they think of you. And if they do want to slide you some honesty, it is usually wrapped in a sugar coating. Why then, with our compulsion to smooth the truth, does it hurt to be on the back end of an honest opinion?

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    I believe it is because most of us have shied away from getting honesty our whole lives. As a result, we haven’t trained the ability to recognize that a criticism of our behaviors, results or efforts isn’t a criticism of ourselves. Once you train yourself to notice the separation, you can start using any criticism thrown your way and actively seek more of it.

    Honesty is a Good Thing, Here’s How to Survive It

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    Here are some tips for surviving the floods of good intentions that might crash upon your ego:

    1. Balance Yourself – The salience effect is a cognitive bias where we tend to focus on the most recent or memorable piece of information, ignoring the collective. Whenever you get a piece of criticism, you need to balance it by recognizing that this is just one tiny critique out of all feedback. Don’t exaggerate it’s impact on who you are.
    2. Get Them to Focus on Behavior – If you are in the middle of an evaluation, try directing the person onto your specific behaviors, not you. Tell them you are interested in hearing their suggestions and ask for positive ideas for improving your methods.
    3. There is No Absolute Feedback – Part of the sting comes from converting feedback, which is entirely relative, into absolutes. If someone told a stand-up comedian he wasn’t funny after a show, that would probably mean he wasn’t as funny as other comedians that person likes. It doesn’t mean he is objectively, the most unfunny person who ever existed.
    4. It’s Opinion, Not Fact – The only benefit of feedback is if it illuminates weaknesses or strengths you suspected but hadn’t realized. You always have the option to disagree with criticism.
    5. Don’t Ask for Honesty When You Want Support – Don’t ask people for honest feedback if you plan to tune out anything but praise. Notice your internal state when you want feedback. Do you want help or validation? Get clear, otherwise you might get an unexpected critique.
    6. Flip it to Positive – Guide the person towards making suggestions for improvement rather than pointing out flaws. It’s easier to hear: “You should try slowing when you deliver a speech,” rather than, “I couldn’t understand anything you said!”
    7. Don’t Argue – I once saw on a famous speaker’s blog comments a verbal insult from someone. The speaker responded by continuing the attack and redirecting it at his assailant. I felt this showed a lack of maturity by bringing himself down to the level of the man who insulted him. You’ll look more secure and confident if you can redirect and brush aside criticism than if you engage in an argument.
    8. Train Your Ego – My suggestion is to actively run towards as much harsh criticism as you can. It will desensitize you to the bite of one particular comment and give you the ability to see yourself more fairly.

    Now that you have some pain-killers for the attack, here’s how to ask for more:

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    1. Say Thanks – Some companies pay consultants millions of dollars to come by and show them how they are doing a bad job. At least some people will do it for free. Thank them so you don’t have to pay heavy consultant bills later.
    2. Honesty Policy – Develop a policy for honesty where you encourage people who give you honest feedback. I’ve wrote about this topic several times on my blog, and I’ve gotten many suggestions from readers who prefaced their ideas with, “I’m saying this because I know you won’t take it personally.” How many ideas would I have lost if I hadn’t created an honesty policy?
    3. Don’t Justify – In the face of criticism, you might feel the urge to explain or justify yourself. My advice is to avoid it unless it is specifically asked from you. The reason is that justification not only admits your insecurity, but it makes the other person think you aren’t listening.
    4. Experiment with Embarrassment – If you aren’t making a fool of yourself routinely, you probably aren’t being ambitious enough. Take criticism as a sign that you are experimenting regularly.
    5. Give People the Sugar – Give people the sugar-coating, so they can give the honest suggestions. Frame questions so they can deliver feedback in a non-offensive manner. “What could I have most improved?” “If you had to say something, what did you like least?”
    6. Be Positive – If someone criticizes, translate them into positive suggestions and discuss it with them. The translation informs the person that you have a thick-skin and are using the advice.
    7. “Thanks, I’ll think about that.” – Five words to end the conversation and give yourself time to process any particularly crushing information. This keeps you from starting an argument with a person which can only defeat an honesty policy.
    8. “I Understand, But Disagree.” – Those four words are your only comeback. I’ve had people tell me I should stop writing, speaking or change something I felt strongly about. Calmly stating those four words shows the person that it isn’t a topic of discussion, but shows everyone else that you are open to all suggestions.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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