Criticism isn’t one of those things that people take kindly to. Hey, we get it, nobody likes to be told they’re wrong, not good enough or straight up bad at what they do. Unfortunately, while no one can control how someone else fires off criticism towards them, there is a way to help minimize how it impacts you. It’s not just power of positivity — although, that obviously works — but, instead, a series of small tips that can help you control how your mind reacts to such comments.
But, look, I’m not an expert at this kind of thing who knows exactly how to deflect criticism, but you know who is? Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker and writer working in over 26 countries with a number of C-level execs in Fortune 500 corporations. And, for that reason, Nawaz offered up some tips to the Harvard Business Review about how to take criticism the right way without completely freaking the hell out.
No matter who you are, how successful you’ve been or what ambitions you have, criticism can affect anyone. Even the biggest and richest athletes can wilt under pressure because of it, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Sabina Nawaz felt that kind of anxiety in one of her previous roles, something that she opened up about in her Harvard Business Review piece.
I knew I was generally well-liked because I spent a large portion of my time and energy on pleasing others. The thought that some people didn’t like me felt like a punch in the gut. I lost sleep, couldn’t concentrate, and lost five pounds in one week (not how I wanted to lose those pounds). I started to consider how I could give in to what the naysayers wanted, even though it wasn’t the right thing for the organization.
Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I figured out how to be resilient when being criticized. This enabled me to stand my ground and take actions that benefited the organization, not just my self-worth.
Whether it’s something relatable to Sabina Nawaz’s story or something else, for those who just can’t take criticism, here are some of her tips on how to at least eliminate the impact it might have on you, according to her own experiences in dealing with it.
Prepare Yourself For Criticism So Not To Freeze When Getting It
Criticism is a lot like traffic, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to get hit with it, it’s a matter of when you will. Once you understand that, it becomes easier to deal with accepting what people might be saying about you — although it still really sucks to hear.
Sure, you’ll probably have a ton of emotions running through out the second someone starts talking crap about you, but remember that it’s not personal, so your reaction shouldn’t be either. Instead of lashing out, which could lead to something you really regret later, work on a list either on paper or in your head with which you use as a roadmap for times when criticism might be tossed at you. This way you’ll be prepared, so the words of other people won’t nearly be as hard of a pill to swallow.
Calibrate Criticism, Don’t Catastrophize It
Like most things in life, criticism is all about perspective. If someone says they don’t like your shirt, do you allow yourself to worry about that opinion all night, or do you brush it off? When it comes to criticism in a work setting, are you allowing yourself to think you’ll lose your job simply because you made a mistake or things weren’t done right the first time? If so, you’re already losing the battle against criticism.
Instead of burying yourself with negativity after someone puts you down or gives you negative feedback, avoid jumping to conclusions about what it all means. Sure, there may be some pent up frustration there, but, most of the times, it could just be a single instance and not that big of a deal. How stressful criticism becomes often depends on how much you think, er, worry about it in your own mind.
Accumulate, But Never React
This is the point where you’ve just got to accept the criticism, man, because you have no control whether it happens or not, nor when it might occur. In that sense, just fucking go with it, don’t fight back unless it’s something that’s so overwhelmingly inappropriate — or a personal attack on you — and simply focus on the bigger picture. Most of the time things aren’t as big a problem as you first think, so reacting too quickly could just escalate the situation altogether.
Make The Criticism About Your Role, Not Something Personally Towards You
If you’re really being honest with ourselves, the real reason why we can’t stand criticism is because we often take it too personally. Yes, as mentioned earlier, there are some jackasses who just enjoy getting off on putting other people down, but screw them, you’re better than that, so don’t allow them to affect you. In most cases, though, when there’s criticism coming from someone, it has to do with your work, not you.
Let that sink in for a second.
That means that, should a boss criticize a presentation you did, it means the work wasn’t up to his or her standards, not that you aren’t. It’s important to differentiate between those two things and not confuse yourself with your role in a company. We all take pride in our work, but a part big part of growing is failing first in order to improve.
Open Up To Others About The Impact The Criticism Had On You
Even if you’re the most isolated person and very rarely talk to anyone, you still have a couple of people you a) trust, b) can talk with about things (good and bad), and c) are fully invested in seeing you succeed. After a bout of criticism hits you, this isn’t the time to just wallop in your own thoughts and think you can overcome it all. Instead, track down those trusted folks of yours and spill the details about what’s bothering you.
This means opening up about how and why the negative comments affected you in the first place, and then getting suggestions from these people you trust about how to learn from the criticism moving forward. Talking to someone is always more productive than holding it in and over-thinking.
Criticism isn’t fun. It can be debilitating. It can lead to self-doubt. It can make us worry or become anxious. Or, it can be something that you use to your advantage by preparing yourself for it, listening to it, absorbing it and applying a couple lessons from it. Criticism will test your character — but it should be because you want to better yourself after hearing it, not because you feel as if it’s attacking you.
It’s easy to go around worrying about what others might be thinking about you or your performance, looking for satisfaction or validation from them. But you know what’s hard? Learning how to channel that to your advantage and show confidence in yourself in the face of criticism, turning a negative situation into a positive one. So value yourself, because you’ve got a helluva lot to give.