“For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.”
Andrew walked into the weekly sales meeting and was immediately reprimanded by his boss in front of the entire team. The boss told him that his work was slipping badly and that he had handed in an incomplete report that week. Andrew immediately got defensive and blamed the company’s new contact management system for his difficulties.
Maria wanted her mother-in-law’s visit to go just right. So she cleaned the house from top to bottom and prepared an elaborate meal. But her mother-in-law never commented on the house or the food. Instead, she bluntly told Maria that her son seemed to be losing some weight because she wasn’t taking good care of him.
Difficult people making work and life difficult for others. Unfortunately, it happens too often and most of the time people have no idea how to respond. That’s why I’m offering my webinar on “Difficult People: How To Spot Them and Stop Them” on November 13, 2014 at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. Watch your email for information about how to register.
But Andrew and Maria are not unusual. Most people have trouble handling criticism. So let’s give you a head start on the process.
To motivate yourself to deal with criticism … instead of trying to hide from it … you must remember:
1. You stand to lose a lot if you don’t know how to deal with criticism.
I could give you a long list of losses that you’re likely to experience, but three of the losses are especially noteworthy.
You could lose out on any upcoming promotions.
Even though the boss was wrong to ridicule Andrew in front of the team, Andrew’s lack of emotional intelligence, his failure to control his feelings, and his tendency to blame someone or something instead of taking responsibility could very well make the difference between getting a promotion and being passed over.
You could lose out on the personal and professional growth you need.
Thin-skinned people cheat themselves out of experiences that could enrich their lives. I remember one audience member telling me she never went back to college because she couldn’t face what people would say if she didn’t do well. Without the courage and skill to deal with criticism and difficult people, all you do is accumulate a collection of good ideas and bad regrets.
(One of the key characteristics of winners is the fact that they take responsibility for their continuing education. I talk about that in my new book being released later this year, “The Payoff Principle: Discover The 3 Secrets For Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work.”)
You could put unnecessary distance into your relationships.
One woman told me all about her desire to spend more time with her husband who was forever focused on his work. But she wouldn’t say anything to him because he’d get upset if she complained about his lack of attention. However, the very fact that she wouldn’t talk about her needs led to her increasing resentment, which came out in all kinds of ways that hurt their relationship.
Take legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s advice. He said, “You cannot let praise or criticism get to you. It is a weakness to get caught up in either one.” So true.
If you don’t want someone’s criticism to get the better of you, then you need to…
2. Decide if the criticism is justified or unjustified.
Every comment you hear tends to be one or the other.
A justified complaint or criticism has a measure of truth in it. Someone gives you an observation that points out your need for improvement and you can’t help but admit that he is right, or at least partially correct. For example, someone criticizes you for always coming to staff meetings late. While it may not be true that you “always” arrive at staff meetings late, you know you often do so.
By contrast, an unjustified criticism is simply not true. Someone calls you a “moron,” and you totally reject that description of yourself. Indeed, you should. As human relations expert Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do. But it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”
Of course, in those two examples, it’s fairly clear if the criticism is justified or unjustified. But what about those times when you’re criticized by your boss, a coworker, or your partner, and you’re just not sure whether or not you should believe them or dismiss them. In those cases …
3. Ask yourself the discernment questions.
Take the time to ask yourself the questions that Dr. Hendrie Weisinger, a psychologist and author of “Nobody’s Perfect,” designed. They will give you wisdom.
Do you hear the same criticism from more than one person?
If the only person that ever calls you a “perfectionist” is your mother, you may want to let it go. Don’t let her criticism bend you out of shape. But if your best friend and a couple of coworkers comment on the unrealistic expectations you have for yourself, you should take a second look at your behavior.
Does your critic know a great deal about the subject?
If your wife is an accountant, her views on financial management may be valuable and well worth your consideration. But she may not know enough about your IT job to judge the way you do it. When she criticizes that, you may want to take it with a grain of salt.
Are the critic’s standards reasonable?
Someone tells you, “If you can’t do it right, don’t bother to do it.” Is that really reasonable? Does everything have to be done exactly right? Sometimes getting things done now is more important than getting them done right, eventually. You need to decide whether or not the critic’s comments are based on standards that make sense to you.
Is the criticism truly about you?
Sometimes a person who is in mental or physical pain blurts out truths he’d normally restrain or tosses out criticisms that he just doesn’t mean. That was the case with Maria above. After cooling off, she realized her mother-in-law’s unfair put-down really stemmed from her own feelings of uselessness as she got older and was taking out her frustration on Maria. Remember, hurting people hurt people.
Is the criticism given to help you?
Or is it given to hurt you? If the other person criticizes you in public, for example, more often than not her intentions aren’t the best. If the other person has your best interests in min
d, even though she may say it rather crudely, her comment may merit your attention.
If you can answer “yes” to three or more of these questions, take some time to consider the other person’s criticism and how you can “use” it to your advantage. If you answer “no” to three or more questions, don’t waste too much of your precious time ruminating over the criticism. When you take this kind of control of your reactions, you take control of your life.