5 Tips For Tolerating Criticism

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Welcome to Tuesday’s Tips, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense useful, actionable and empowering tips!

We wrap the word in clever packaging, sometimes calling it honesty or feedback, and we all know that it’s a necessary part of growing. But no matter what you call it, no one really likes criticism.

As someone who grew up making a lot of mistakes, I’m particularly sensitive to it, and I’ve spent much of my adult life striving for perfection in an effort to avoid getting it. But somehow I always seem to pick a new project or trajectory that pulls me out of my comfort zone and sets me up for new and exciting opportunities which, invariably, expose me to criticism.

Here are my personal go-to tips for handling that which I abhor: Criticism. As you read this, think of me not as Dr. Darcy, rather, as defensive Darcy trying to dial down my inner fighter in an effort to win the greatest battle of all: Growth.

1. Shut up. I start by committing to silence during the criticism. My natural inclination is to defend – to explain why I did what I did – why I’m not an asshole. When I explain, inevitably, I sound like an asshole.

2. Mirror back. To ensure that I heard the critique correctly, I paraphrase what I heard the critic say. I typically hate this step because I’m so certain that my super-brain hears everything objectively and that this is a useless exercise. And about 3 out of 4 times I’m corrected by the critic because, alas, I’m human and hear things through a lens that is 100% subjective.

3. Depersonalize. It’s the same skill that sociopaths use to separate themselves from their victims and over the years I’ve gotten fairly good at it which, occasionally, concerns me (I’m half kidding here). You can try achieving it by saying this to yourself: What if this didn’t matter? What if this wasn’t about me? Depersonalizing will help you to stay calm so that you can achieve your next step.

4. Validate. That’s right. Find some truth or common ground in the critique and express it to the critic. Failing to do so makes you look defensive, incapable of growth and emotionally fragile.  Successfully doing this causes the critic to become more compassionate, less aggressive and more likely to go easy on you.

5. The takeaway. OK, so maybe you were just blowing smoke up the critic’s skirt when you validated her feelings/perspective. But here’s where the real work come into play: If you don’t learn something from the critique, if you don’t grasp onto something tangible that you can commit to not doing or to doing differently in the future, you’re bound to hear the same criticism again in the future. Every criticism is the Universe’s way of giving you a growth opportunity. How many of the same lessons do you need before you can move on to the next? It’s your choice and it’s all about the takeaway.