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Handling Criticism: 5 Tools to Help You Grow a Thick Skin

Handling Criticism: 5 Tools to Help You Grow a Thick Skin

Mugato vs Rhino by JD Hancock at Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/4355523550/

    Face it, nobody likes being criticized. But unless you plan to spend your life hiding under a rock, you’re going to feel the sting of criticism at some point or other.

    The fear of that sting can keep us playing smaller than our potential, or even shut us down entirely. This puts us in a bind because whether the goal is to build a business, bring a product to market, sing an aria, or learn to paint, we often need feedback in order to refine and craft our work into its best, most optimal form.

    Learning to handle criticism, therefore, may be one of the most important skills required for success in any field.

    Here are five tools that will help you grow a thick skin:

    1. Find a Thick-Skinned Role Model

    Although it’s easy to believe that being criticized means we did something wrong, the reality is that receiving criticism is a hallmark of doing cutting-edge, important work.

    Getting a negative response means that you’ve hit a nerve; it tells you a lot more about the criticizer’s trigger point than it does about you.

    Look at Madonna, Lady Gaga, Hilary Clinton, Gloria Steinem. These are really polarizing women who hit a nerve in our culture, and have gotten a ton of criticism as a result. You may not like their work or what they stand for, but the people who criticize them are definitely threatened by them.

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    Think of artists like Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, or the beloved Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel). These folks were so ahead of their time they were utterly rejected at first, only to be embraced later in their careers (or after they died) when the rest of the culture caught up.

    Having a thick-skinned role model can help keep you forging ahead when the critics threaten to pull you down, so take a moment and think of someone you admire for their ‘sticktoitiveness,’ despite critical reactions to their work.

    Consciously reminding yourself of even one person who inspires you in this way can help you to remember what’s possible in life. You might even want to print out their picture, or quotes by them, to post near your workspace.

    2. Reframe Criticism as Positive Fuel

    Years ago, when I was starting out learning the art and craft of calligraphy, I was once invited by a master teacher to show him my portfolio. I was reluctant to hand it over and hear his criticisms, until he assured me, “I’m just going to tell you how you could make your work better.” With that simple statement, my fear dropped away and I was eager to hear his feedback.

    Not all of our critics will be so gentle, unfortunately, but with a shift of mindset, even the most negative comments can be useful to us.

    In his book, Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields tells a story about Rosamund Zander, co-author (with her husband, Benjamin Zander) of the book, The Art of Possibility. The Harvard Business School had sent an early draft out to readers before Zander felt it was ready to go, and readers responded with some pretty negative comments. Instead of being flattened by the feedback, however, Zander was surprised to find herself very interested in what the readers had to say.

    “I didn’t quite understand it at the time,” she writes, “but I thought, ‘If they haven’t understood what I’m trying to say, then perhaps I haven’t conveyed it as well as I could have.’ So I saw it as their comments actually gave me clues on how to communicate my ideas better. With that perspective, even the most negative reader seemed to be on my team. I was surprised at how little the ‘criticism’ hurt, that it didn’t go too deep, and realized that I wasn’t knocked over by it, but that it was useful for me.”

    Reframing criticism as something useful can empower and fuel you to keep going and make your work even better.

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    3. Separate Fact from Interpretation

    When you get negative feedback, it can be tempting to interpret it as providing factual information about you. If I submit an article for publication or enter a painting in a juried competition and get rejected, for example, it’s easy to leap to thoughts like, “My work sucks. I suck.”

    This is where it’s important to look at the facts.

    If my work is rejected, that doesn’t actually tell me anything about me or my work. All I really know is that this particular work wasn’t compelling to this particular audience at this particular moment.

    The truth is, good and bad are subjective calls. It’s not accurate to call anything wonderful or sucky; there’s only what a particular person or audience feels is wonderful or sucky.

    When we can separate fact from interpretation, negative feedback can offer valuable tactical information.

    For example, if you try to sell a product to a particular audience, and they aren’t buying, this might be a clue that you need to be clearer in your promotional messaging. Or it might be a clue that it’s time to seek out a different audience entirely!

    Separating fact from interpretation helps relieve the sting, and can allow you to use feedback to improve what you do.

    4. Ignore Anyone on the Sidelines

    There are some cases where feedback simply is not useful at all. Brené Brown, TED speaker and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, among other books, has gotten comments on her videos like, “If I looked like Brené Brown, I’d embrace imperfection too.”

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    Ouch.

    These kinds of pot shots have nothing to do with the work in question. They may hurt worst of all (they’re designed to!), yet they have nothing of value to give us.

    Brown likens comments like this to insults screamed from the stands at the gladiators fighting in the arena below. It’s easy to tell someone else they can’t fight their way out of a paper bag when you’re sitting safely out of harm’s way.

    When you’re sifting through feedback to determine what to pay attention to, ask yourself if your critics are offering opinions that are truly useful for you.

    If they’re not fellow ‘gladiators in the arena,’ or ideal customers/potential recipients of your work, they’re likely trolls hanging about on the sidelines. Ignore them.

    5. Find the Shiny, Red Button

    All of this reframing is well and good when you’re able to maintain neutrality, but sometimes that just isn’t the way things roll. Sometimes someone shoots a criticism arrow at you, and it cuts you to the core.

    For each of us, there is a particular criticism (or criticisms) that really cuts us deeply. Perhaps it rolls right off your back when someone says you’re not smart, but if they tell you you’re lazy or unprofessional, it pushes your buttons and sends you off your rocker.

    The reason a certain criticism will cut so deeply is that you already have a belief or a concern that maybe it’s true.

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    If you look at your own trigger criticisms, you may be able to cast back in your memory to when those beliefs about yourself first got laid in. The truth is, whenever we have a strong, painful reaction to something, it’s almost always because of some hurt or series of hurts somewhere in the past.

    When we get hurt in a particular way, especially by people who are very big and important in our world—like parents, teachers, or close friends—or if we get hurt in the same way enough times, we start to believe it. Then that belief becomes a big, shiny, red button with a hair trigger that can get pushed very easily.

    I got a message as a very young child that I was selfish. Then in my first marriage, whenever I wasn’t able to meet his needs, my husband declared that I was selfish. Even when my friends and family reflected back that I was generous and loving, my husband’s story that I was selfish hooked right into those stories from my childhood, so my belief that I was selfish got strengthened and blown out of proportion.

    For years, the slightest comment that I was acting in my own self-interest would throw me into a frenzy of self-doubt and anxiety. I spent a ridiculous amount of energy bending over backwards in order to try and prove that I wasn’t selfish!

    The criticism itself is not the real problem here; the real problem is the beliefs we hold about ourselves.

    The good news is that noticing what criticisms cut us the most can show us what those beliefs are, so that criticism can become a valuable tool for self-growth.

    So there you have it—my five favorite tools for handling criticism. With these tools in your box, hopefully the next criticism lob that comes your way will roll right off your back.

    Do you have any to add?

    Featured photo credit: Mugato vs Rhino by JD Hancock at Flickr via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on July 18, 2019

    What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

    What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

    Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

    They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

    It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

    1. They Manage Their Expectations

    They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

    2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

    Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

    3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

    Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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    4. They’re Not Materialistic

    There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

    5. They Don’t Dwell

    They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

    6. They Care About Themselves First

    They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

    They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

    7. They Enjoy the Little Things

    They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

    8. They Can Adapt

    They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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    9. They Experiment

    They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

    10. They Take Their Time

    They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

    11. They Employ Different Perspectives

    They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

    12. They Seek to Learn

    Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

    13. They Always Have a Plan

    They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

    14. They Give Respect to Get It

    They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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    15. They Consider Every Opportunity

    They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

    16. They Always Seek to Improve

    Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

    17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

    They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

    18. They Live in the Moment

    They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

    You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

    19. They Say Yes

    Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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    20. They’re Self-Aware

    Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

    We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

    Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

    Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

    Final Thoughts

    The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

    For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

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    Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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