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Handling Criticism: 6 Options to Get Through It

Handling Criticism: 6 Options to Get Through It

criticism

    Everyone’s a critic, right? Everyone has an opinion, everyone’s willing to tell you what you’re doing wrong, everyone’s ready to tell you how to lead your life. To be completely honest, most of us don’t want to hear it. Whether it’s coming from Dad or the boss, we’re pretty much content to just zone out and hope that we can say, “Whatever you say,” at the right point. Even when someone’s offering up constructive criticism, it can be hard to take.

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    Taking criticism is a skill — and being able to learn from harsh criticism requires a pretty extreme level of proficiency. There are a few ways to build up your tolerance for criticism, though, and to move closer to that level, even if you can’t convince your critics to make the switch to a more constructive approach.

    1. Ask for criticism in writing

    Listening to someone go on and on about what you aren’t getting right is extremely difficult. After even just a few minutes it can take the patience of a saint to refrain from telling a critic exactly where they can put their comments. But if you can ask a critic to write down his or her comments, it’s worth the effort. You’ll have a little more distance when you go over the criticism in question (and if you decide that you aren’t going to actually read those notes, you have a little more leeway to do so). You might also find that more than a few critics will decide against the effort required to write out their thoughts.

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    2. Resolve valid criticism

    Harsh criticism isn’t exactly a great way to motivate change, but in some cases the criticism does come about from a valid issue. If you find yourself on the receiving end of some unfriendly opinions, it’s worth finding out if such a concern is actually valid. Ask someone external to the situation for an opinion, run some numbers — whatever it takes to make a decision one way or the other. If you come to the conclusion that it isn’t valid, ignore the remarks and go do something happy. If it is valid, you may need to consider addressing it.

    3. Get concrete details

    One of the most frustrating types of criticism is the variety where you don’t actually get any information on what you’re supposed to change. More than a few disapproving authority figures will launch into a litany of the many things they think you’re doing wrong. If you can get them to switch to more constructive criticism, you can cut a critical conversation short with something along the lines of, “If I do this, you’ll be be happy?” Actually doing it, of course, remains up to you.

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    4. Head your critics off at the pass

    There are some people who’s function in life seems to offer criticism, deserved or not. Of the top of your head, you can probably think of a handful of such individuals that you have to deal with. For many such critics, though, you can often redirect them to other conversations: ask them about their own projects, their families or whatever they’re interested in. You’ll probably still get an earful or two, but if you can head off their criticism and bring the conversation around to something more comfortable, it will be easier to handle the remaining criticism.

    5. Recognize that some people really don’t have anything better to do

    Constructive criticism is one thing, but some people spend most of their day making harsh evaluations that aren’t exactly helpful to the recipient. It’s a fact of life, and the only way to deal with such people is generally to ignore them or deal with them. Depending on how important they are to you — ignoring a parent is rarely practical — your best option may be to just do what you can to make them happy and just wait until they leave the room to do your own things. It’s not the best of situations, but it’s an option that many people have used.

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    6. Keep your emotions out of it

    It’s easier said than done, but responding defensively or getting emotional during a critical discussion just draws it out longer. If you’re not defensive of your behavior (whether you’re right or wrong), most critics will take that as a sign that you’re at least considering their comments — making them at least a little happier about the situation. If you can manage this sort of approach, you’ll at least get out of the discussion that much faster.

    Criticism is complex: on the one hand, we want to please our supervisors, our family, our friends — all those people in a position to offer criticism. But at the same time, it’s rare that we can resolve every complaint or will want to. That means that handling critiques, rather than necessarily responding to them, is an important skill for most of us to get by.

    But criticism also an issue of personality. Some people are just better equipped emotionally, to listen to an evaluation of their performance. That means that different methods of handling criticism (or outright avoiding it) are necessary, especially when avoiding the emotional aspects of criticism just doesn’t seem possible. These approaches are just a few that I’ve used or seen over the years. If you’ve had luck with a different approach, tell us about it in the comments.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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