I don’t know about you but I’m such a people pleaser. I sometimes agree with people just to avoid an awkward conversation, I thrive on praise, like a dog bringing a ball back and sitting up waiting to be patted and hear ‘Good dog!’, and I avoid confrontation if I possibly can. As such, I find hearing criticism hard. I mean, no one loves being criticised, do they?
And there are two types of criticism – there’s the kind where someone is pointing out something that you’ve done wrong and it’s a GOOD thing that they’re pointing it out because, actually, when you think about it, the thing you’ve done wrong wasn’t great. But you can learn from it and try not to repeat it. With that kind of constructive criticism, while it’s not easy to hear, I try to welcome it with open arms (once I’ve been through the discomfort of hearing it).
The second type of criticism is when someone says something to you, or about you, with no real positive intention. It could be a school mum saying something unkind about your parenting style. It might be someone you went to school with leaving a harsh comment about you on a Facebook post. It could be a total stranger talking about you on an online forum. It might be a colleague who you overhear slagging you off, at work.
The thing is, we’re always going to come across people who have something unkind to say about us – it’s impossible to be liked by everyone (we’re not a jar of Nutella). So it’s important to assess the criticism and work out whether it’s genuine constructive criticism or not. If it is, try to get past that initial defensive reaction you’ll probably have, listen to what’s being said, ask questions about what you might be doing wrong and what the person thinks you could do differently, and learn from it.
If it’s not constructive criticism, then here are a few things that you can do…
- Tell yourself: “This says more about the person making the criticism, than it does about me.” Often someone lashes out at another because they are feeling low or lacking in confidence or perhaps they’re feeling anxious about something, or just generally unhappy. People can project their own issues onto others and they often point out other people’s faults when they’re feeling insecure. Try to focus on that, and if you can, muster up a bit of sympathy for the person because they might be going through a really negative time right now.
- Channel a bit of Brené Brown (not heard of her? She’s amazing – start by watching her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability and then watch her Netflix special). I heard Brené talking on a podcast once about how she recommends you make a list of all the people in the world whose opinion of you matter. Then, the next time someone criticises you, check to see if their name is on the list. If it is, listen to that person. If it’s not, disregard it. Of course, I think there will be times when people who aren’t on your list will have valid constructive things to say to you, but it’s a good rule of thumb to stop you from obsessing over everyone’s opinion of you. On her Netflix special, Brené talks about her experience of reading online comments about her, and her advice is brilliant, and applies to us when we’re on the school PTA and other parents (who aren’t on the PTA) have nothing but criticism to throw at us, or if we’re at work and we put ourselves out there and try something new, and colleagues roll their eyes and say it’s a bad idea, or even if like Brené, we’ve read something unkind about ourselves online. Brené says: “If you are not in the arena, getting your ass kicked on occasion because you’re being brave, I am not interested in or open to your feedback about my work. There are millions of cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never once set foot in that arena. They will never once put themselves out there but they will make it a full time job to hurl criticism and really hateful things towards us. And we have got to get out of the habit of catching them and dissecting them and holding them close to our hearts. We have got to let them drop to the floor. Don’t grab that hurtful stuff from the cheap seats and hold it close. Don’t pull it anywhere near your heart. Just let it fall to the ground. You don’t have to stomp it or kick it. You’ve just got to step over it and keep going. You can’t take criticism and feedback from people who aren’t being brave with their lives. It just will crush you.” So in other words – if you’re not willing to join the PTA, and give your time and energy and ideas, then I don’t want to hear your criticism of my work with the PTA. Makes sense, right?
- I was chatting to a good friend about criticism recently – she’s had more than her fair share of it – and she said the following wise words: “You can’t change other people’s actions and thoughts. Only your own. So you can’t stop people being mean but you can stop yourself from listening it and punishing yourself with it. So let them say it. And ignore it.” She’s right – why spend time agonising over something that we have no control over?
And while we can’t be liked by everyone, like a jar of Nutella, we CAN turn to a jar of Nutella to make ourselves feel temporarily better when someone criticises us, so there’s always that…