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How to Handle Criticism

How to Handle Criticism
Screaming

How well do you handle criticism? I’ve been dealt a lot of criticism ranging from harsh feedback to feeling completely insulted. Although the saying goes, “Stick and stones can break by bones, but words can never hurt me,” a harsh piece of feedback can definitely leave you with a bruised ego.

Despite the sting, I’ve found criticism can often be useful. Feedback can help you fix mistakes and improve. I believe criticism can often show you what your own blind spots are, pointing you out to problems before they arise. I’ve found my ability to use sometimes harsh feedback, has given me an advantage in my own self-improvement.

Brace for Impact – Managing Criticism is More Than a Platitude

If negative feedback can be useful, why does it make you feel lousy in the first place?

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I don’t have a scientific answer for this, but I believe a lot of it has to do with our ancestors. Living in small groups of about a hundred people, becoming a social outcast could be a death sentence. So humans became sensitive to any threats on their status or social standing. Bullying still happens, but in today’s world, where you may be in a group of thousands, it is far easier to use feedback instead of automatically assuming it is a personal attack.

My point is that criticism will always feel lousy, and saying some inspirational quote probably won’t change this much. But just because it can feel bad, doesn’t mean you can’t use it.

Distinguish Between Feedback and Insults

You can’t use feedback if you can’t first distinguish it from insults. Sometimes the line that separates feedback from insults can be blurry, but I’ve found most people draw the line so that many pieces of useful feedback are labeled as insults.

Just because feedback is harsh, doesn’t mean it is an insult. An insult is a tactic of the other person to manipulate or bully you and doesn’t have anything to do with you. You have to handle insults differently than feedback, but the first step is to know where to draw the line.

You can’t be perfect in distinguishing between the two, but I’ve found it useful to ask what the intention was. Are they trying to help or communicating how they feel about you or your actions? Even if it was harsh that is probably just feedback. If it was only an attempt to manipulate you or others than it might be an insult.

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How to Use Feedback

Once you’ve gotten over the initial sting of some harsh criticism, you need to ask yourself how you are going to use it. I’ve found that there are generally three options: learn, ignore or assert.

1) Learn

Was the feedback genuine and useful? If it is true, you can try to learn from it. I don’t choose whether to use feedback based on how harsh it was. The most negative feedback can often open you up to complete blind spots.

When I first started writing I had a few pieces of criticism that stung. But I decided to turn it into advice, and it helped me overcome a lot of my blind spots. Taking negative feedback and making a mental note of it to improve later can turn a harsh blow into a useful aid later on.

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2) Ignore

Sometimes the feedback is genuine, but it isn’t useful. I’ve received a lot of advice in the form of criticism that may have been valid but I chose to ignore. Before I started my own personal development website over a year ago, I was told by some people that I shouldn’t do it. I considered that advice, but chose to ignore it.

Ignoring doesn’t mean you become defensive or hostile towards the other person. Sometimes all it requires is informing them that you simply believe they are wrong. If you become hostile towards someone who is trying to offer feedback, you can often stop them from giving you useful feedback later.

3) Assert

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If you’ve decided you can’t learn from a piece of feedback, sometimes you need to assert yourself. If you are being manipulated or bullied by the other person, you need to stand your ground.

This is why it becomes important to draw the line between feedback and insults. Reacting defensively to feedback usually only serves to make you look insecure or can make the situation worse by damaging your relationship. But if the person is using criticism as an attempt to bully or manipulate, calmly asserting yourself can handle the situation.

Usually I find it is a matter of volume. If someone occasionally gives a piece of feedback that I don’t like and choose to ignore, going on the defensive can prevent you from getting useful feedback later. But for those people that are constantly criticizing when it isn’t helpful or polite, you have to be assertive.

I examine any feedback I get through these three filters. If I can use the feedback, I thank the other person for their input and start using it immediately. If I can’t use it, but the feedback was genuine, ignoring it and moving forward might be the best option. Finally if the feedback wasn’t genuine or it is being used to manipulate, I assert myself.

Notice how there isn’t a fourth option of, “quietly simmer and resent the comment.” It can be hard to know where to place feedback, but it needs to fit somewhere within the three. Reacting aggressively to helpful advice isn’t useful, but staying quiet in the face of a bully won’t work either.

Scott Young is a University student who writes about personal development, productivity and goal setting. Some of Scott’s popular articles include: Habitual Mastery, Double Your Reading Rate and How to Ace Your Finals Without Studying. You can get his free e-book on Holistic Learning here

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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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