Constructive criticism is hard to take. Worst still is the Grade-A, A-hole who will rip you a new one every chance he gets. That’s a lot worst. The vile, bitterness that oozes out of his forked tongue stings like a million wasps. Yet, what is he really saying? Is it really a reflection of his insecurity or your screw up? That all depends on how you handle criticism.
Constructive or Not, It Still Stings A Little
Our egos make taking criticism tough. There is just a visceral reaction to someone telling us you screwed up or are wrong. The trick is to contain the reaction and make it positive. Your attitude while taking criticism will not only make it bearable but also shows the critic that you are in control and are confident in your abilities.
Back To The Grade A, A-hole
Receiving criticism from Mr. “I am better than you and know it” makes everyone mental. So, don’t let this guy get under your skin. What real value is he adding to your world by being so down and negative on whatever you did? It’s best to ignore these guys and everything they say. What do they know? If you can’t ignore them, then mess with them. Turn about is fair play when attacked by absurd critics that are just spew personal attacks. Some countermeasures to consider are:
- The Silent Stare With Inverted Frown: Probably the most useful method since it really makes the other person angry while allowing you to keep your cool. Basically, all you do is stare and smile. Don’t say a word. Don’t even blink. The stare has to be overt. Look them right in the eye. Follow their eyes wherever they go. Once they finish ranting, then say “are you done?” Then, keep on staring. Repeat until they leave.
- Dumbo Columbo: Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) would always catch the bad guy by playing dumb. Dumb in the sense that he would act confused and always say “just one more thing” and always catch someone in a lie. You can do the same thing by asking clarifying questions to stop the momentum of the critic. Columbo was not dumb. He knew that his adversaries view of him as “inferior” would put them off their guard.
- Parroting the last sentence: Repeating the last sentence your critic spoke as a question is a great way to derail a rant. Doing it properly takes a bit of skill. You want to change the words enough so that it seems like a real question but not too much that it puts them on another topic. Pretty soon, the critic will get exhausted or forgot why they are ranting.
Back To Constructive Criticism
The real point of this post is how to deal with the good kind of criticism. While it’s fun to play with the grade-A, A-hole, it’s a serious matter to be able to handle criticism in a way that benefits you. Constructive criticism is a tool for self improvement. When done right, you benefit greatly. So, how do you know that criticism is constructive and not a personal attack? Here are a couple of ways to tell:
- Critic is a friend: Usually, your friends want what’s best for you. Criticism from a friend should be considered constructive unless there is a history of it being caustic. Continued caustic criticism from a friend may be a sign that they are not really a friend.
- Critic has nothing to gain: The typical A-hole critic has something to gain by belittling you. Someone giving you suggestions with nothing to gain is truly trying to help. Volunteers fall into this category.
- Critic is a paid professional: Advice you pay for is usually good advice. It may be more complementary than negative but a true paid professional will give you their honest opinion. Their good name depends on it.
Okay, It’s Constructive, Now What
Once you have determined that the criticism will benefit you and it’s not just someone wanting to put you down, you absorb as much as you can. Somethings ways to interact with your constructive critic are:
- Thank them: The first thing you should do is thank your critic for taking the time to help you. Any constructive critic will have spend some amount of time reviewing what you have done. They did not have to do this but they did. So, thank them for it.
- Listen: While the critic is explaining their arguments, sit back and listen. Don’t interrupt until they are done. Resist the urge to defend your decisions until you have heard the entire criticism.
- Ask clarifying questions: Always ask follow up questions that dig deeper into the criticism. Don’t defend your position. Strive to understand the base where the critic is operating from.
- Explain your thinking: Once you understand the criticism, then explain your thinking. This means going through your thought process as to why certain decisions were made. Again, don’t argue the point as to why the critic may be wrong. Just explain how you came up with what you came up with. Being defensive or arguing that the critic is wrong is counterproductive. It may feel good at the time but it’s a worthless exercise.
- Ask how you can improve: A good critic will always have suggestions on how to improve. Ask them for some and then go do it. Good critics are valuable. They tend to want to help you more if you take their advice. This help is a great way to grow beyond where you are today.
- Thank them again: Always end your meeting or session on an upbeat note but thanking the critic again for their feedback.
It Boils Down To Confidence
Receiving constructive criticism is all about having the confidence to take it without making it personal. This has a lot to do with your own confidence in your abilities. Self confidence comes from not internalizing the criticism as a personal attack. Rather, take it for what it is — one opinion of many on your work product. Check out this post over at Worlds Strongest Librarian. Kelly Diels has some witty ways to deal with critics.