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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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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    The Planning Fallacy: Why Your Plans Fail 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines How To Create More Time: 21 Ways to Add More Hours to the Day How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways to Try Now How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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