As a pastor I have noticed that there are many kind-hearted and encouraging people who love to build other people up. I can think of a few specific people who I love being around because they always make me feel like a better person than I really am. However, I have also noticed that there are some people who feel like their gift in life is criticism. I would be lying if I said that criticism doesn’t hurt, proving that this old poem is wrong…at least in my case.
Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words will never hurt me.
How do you handle criticism? I would guess that most of us usually do one of three things:
- We lash out
- We defend our self
- We close up
I have been guilty of all three on many occasions, however, there can be a powerful positive benefit to criticism. Often times these negative words are the things that motivate us on to bigger and better things. It can truly be an opportunity for personal improvement even though it seems like a pain in the butt at the time.
Here are a five steps that I have learned over the years on how to deal with criticism, negativity or even just difficult people in general:
Let’s just be honest…your first response is probably going to be wrong. If you are anything like me, your first response is probably anger. Before you launch into an argument, fire off a rude email, or pick up that phone to chew off someone’s ear take a few minutes and just relax
You need to forcefully hijack that thought completely by changing your environment (go for a walk) or by distracting yourself with some music or a book. Take as long as you need, even a few hours or more is totally fine. You will find that when you come back to the situation you can look at it with a fresh perspective and maybe it doesn’t seem so bad.
2. Dig for the Positive
Behind every criticism is a nugget of truth. My dad always advised me to look for the truth in every criticism and use that to make you a better person. Sometimes it is really hard to find, but you can often find it if you look hard enough.
I’ve had people criticize all kinds of things about me. I had someone who was upset with me and started criticizing me and they said that I was cocky and self-centered. I wanted to argue that point, because I do care deeply for people, but then I asked myself if there was any truth in what they said. After pondering it I realized that sometimes I may not seem caring because I am busy or in a hurry. I realized that I should try to slow down and try to not worry about things so much.
3. Thank Them
I know this is probably hard to do, but you should try to empathize with the person and realize that they may be going through a hard time in their life or maybe they just had a bad day. I have noticed that many people criticize others because they do not feel very good about themselves. What would happen if you used this as an opportunity to give encouragement to them?
Dale Carnegie says in his legendary book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” that the one positive thing that you can say to even the most negative person is, “I would have said the same thing if I were you.” It could be modified to be “I would have acted the same way if I were you” or however you see fit.
You may be thinking, “But I would NEVER say anything critical like that, so how could I tell them that I would?”
Well they are the authority on them. They obviously said what they did and if you were them (with the same past and experiences and beliefs) then you would have acted the same way.
This is basically “turning the other cheek.” If they slap you but you don’t slap back there is no fight.
4. Make Necessary Changes
Once you are able to unearth some small truth in what they say do something about it! Use it to make you into a better person.
Sometimes we get into this way of thinking that we are totally and completely right no matter what. The reality is, maybe you are wrong. Maybe what that person said was one hundred percent correct. No one is right all the time.
I recently read a review of a kid’s movie I made a few years back. They person was saying some bad things about it, and I started to take offense. Then I realized that a lot of what they were saying was actually true, and I can assure you that if I ever make another movie in the future I will try my best to not make those mistakes again!
5. Don’t Stoop Down
Often when we are criticized we take it as a personal attack on who we are as a person. But that is not usually the case. Even if it is the case, it is better for you to take a step back and realize that it is one of your actions getting criticized but not you as an individual. This can help you to take some of the emotion out of it.
Our natural reaction is to want to give that person a “piece of our mind. As if we can afford to lose any! We may even say that we can’t allow them to talk to us like that. At that point it becomes a fight.
Even if the person was totally wrong you don’t have to stoop to their level and engage them. You can be the better person.
When you do this you will not only feel better about yourself but you will often gain respect in the eyes of the other person.
So the next time you get criticized, and it probably won’t be too long from now, remember to hijack your emotions, look for something positive, thank them, make any necessary changes and do not stoop to the level of criticizing them in return.
Criticism can be necessary, but often it is just dragging down the people trying to do amazing things. Don’t let it stop you. – Leo Babauta