“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Aristotle
No one likes to be criticized. You’re feeling good about your work, your ideas, or your behavior – but, instead of praise, you hear critical, negative comments that make you question your work and yourself. It can be hard to deal with. People can feel attacked, undermined, stabbed in the back.
Let’s face it, it’s hard receiving criticism. But worse than receiving it is when you either defend yourself relentlessly, dismiss it out of hand, or worst of all, throw the criticism back at the critique-er.
Because criticism is actually good. It can give you a perspective or insight into things you don’t, can’t, or even refuse to see. Criticism comes from the Greek word kritikos, which means to judge or discern for the sake of improvement. That’s pretty positive. “Criticism is information that will help you grow,” says Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D, psychologist, and author of “The Power of Positive Criticism.”
Receiving criticism is a sign that you are doing stuff, opining about things, taking stances and making things happen. That’s a good sign. And, if we can only view criticism positively, we can use it to help us become better people.
1) The fact is, most people don’t receive enough feedback.
We go through our days and our lives viewing the world through our own eyes. Criticism helps us see ourselves, and the world, more realistically, says Shirley Garrett, Ed.D. It opens us up to seeing our mistakes, our imperfections and our blind spots. You may not always like what you hear, but you’ll wish you heard it earlier, and more often. And when you defend your position or argue tenaciously, you discourage people from giving you more helpful criticism in the future.
2) Criticism forces us to THINK
One reason people don’t tend to respond to criticism well is that they react emotionally. Well, stop doing that. Instead, respond intellectually and rationally. Just stop and listen to the criticism. Keep your mouth shut. And then, respond with your brain and your reasoning. Think about what you’re hearing. Think about this new perspective and point-of-view. Do not think about who the person is, why you originally did what you did, or how much effort the criticism would require for you to address it. Remove all ego from the equation. Just think about the feedback. This is healthy, and it’s potentially powerful.
3) Criticism helps you improve
When you receive criticism, as I mentioned, you are getting a different point-of-view and perspective than your own. It’s an insight into something you didn’t think, didn’t see, or had a different idea about. And it’s a view into yourself that you can’t see. Hearing these different perspectives will contribute to you – adding to your world-view, as well as your view of yourself. Take it all in – and consider ways to adapt, evolve, and improve your product and yourself. Ask questions, seek clarity, request more information. Whatever it takes for you to understand and consider a plan to improve.
You see, no one and nothing is perfect. And you should never aim for perfection. Thus, everything can be improved. Usually, insightful criticism is the fertilizer for that improvement.
4) Criticism keeps you humble
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Winston Churchill
Receiving criticism can be an eye-opener, especially when it’s not expected. Someone has pointed out a flaw, an error, a mistake or a less-than-optimal view of you. However, there’s another side-benefit beyond the learning you can get from it – you’re forced to show some humility.
You’re not perfect, and you’re not always right (nor should you expect to be). And you won’t always be praised or rewarded for success. Criticism teaches you not to be driven only by those goals.
There are, however, two caveats to criticism being “good”. First of all, the criticism has to be about something that you have control over and can actually change. Being told “your nose is too big”, “your college was lame”, or “your work history is pathetic” is neither helpful nor changeable. Secondly, the person giving the criticism has to be willing to provide tangible and credible support for improvement – i.e. at a minimum, clarify, expound and give context to the comments. As Lincoln said, “He has the right to criticize, who has the heart to help.”
So, don’t fear criticism – accept it. And encourage those around you to keep on providing it. You’ll be better for it.
What do you think?