Managing yourself creatively
How to take Criticism?
If you think about it, there are just two days on which the average person is free from criticism: on the day he is born and on the day he dies. And, one is tempted to observe; he only escapes on those occasions because of extenuating circumstances.
In between, he is apt to be the target of a ceaseless barrage of criticism – in rough chronological order – from parents. friends, teachers, sweetheart, wife, employer, and employees. His doctor tells him he’s eating too much; his accountant informs him he’s living too well, his mother-in-law intimates that he’s not earning enough. Bus drivers shout that he’s blocking the aisle, policemen lecture him on double parking and his kids deliver the coup de grace by reminding him that he lives on the far side of the “generation gap”
Or is it?
Criticism comes to all of us and it comes readily, steadily, and inevitably. It comes when we know we deserve it and frequently, it takes us by surprise. But it comes.
The question is how should we handle it? Disregard it? Sometimes listen carefully? Yes, Learn from it? Always!
For criticism, like explanation or persuasion, is a form of communication? And communication means that another person is sharing a thought with you.
That’s always a possible avenue to new knowledge.
To get the most out of the remarks leveled at you by your very next critic, try this five – step program.
1. Tame Your Temper
“The trouble with you, Jasu, is that….”
If Jasu is like most of us, it is doubtful that she will ever really hear what follows that short preface. For almost immediately, all the defense mechanisms in her mind and body are activated. Her heartbeat accelerates, her blood pressure rises, adrenaline is released throughout her system, and her breathing rate increases.
At the same time, Jasu’s brain races along at fantastic speed, producing any number of rationalizations, fantasies, excuses and counter-accusations designed to help her save face.
“Arun’s always been jealous of my abilities”.
“Here comes the buck-passing”.
“He probably just got chewed out by his boss, so now it’s my turn”.
“I could wipe up the office with this clown if I wanted to”.
“The Mississippi River will dry up before you can ever tell me what my trouble is, stupid”!
And on and on and on.
The only way to counteract this all-too-human reaction to criticism is to consciously draw the reins on your temper. Resolve that no matter what your critic tells you, you will force yourself to remain calm.
It won’t be easy, admittedly. At first there is no way you can control the way your body reacts to the stings or criticism; but with practice, as you learn to master your temper, you will find that you can at least reduce the physical thunder and lightning to a light drizzle.
Once you have your temper under control, you can expend your energy more purposefully.
Granted, Aavish may not know what he’s talking about, but the only way you can ever be sure is by absorbing and understanding what he’s saying. That means just one thing, so far as criticism is concerned; namely, to listen – to really listen – to what he’s saying. Here are four ways to perform this deceptively simple activity more effectively.
STRIVE FOR OBJECTIVITY
Listen in terms of what, not whom, your critic is attacking. If he’s talking about the way you delegate authority, for example, concentrate not on your personality or ego, but rather on the weakness in discussion. By divorcing your personal feelings from the subject at hand, you will achieve objectivity, one of the prime requisites of true listening.
RECOGNIZE YOUR PREJUDICES
A major barrier to good listening is simple prejudice. Because you dislike the way a man dresses, votes, or parts his hair, you transfer your disapproval to what he is saying. You think, “Why pay any attention to him?”
Yet, a man who wears loud clothes could be a brilliant engineer. Because somebody blinks a lot, it doesn’t necessarily follow that his thinking is impaired. A Socialist, a Nun or a storywriter might be able to tell you a lot you don’t know about the overseas Oil industry and related technology. In a nutshell: be sure to distinguish between the critic and his criticism.
Ideally, your listening should be totally free of prejudice, but since this is practically impossible, do the next best thing: recognize your prejudices and make a conscious effort to discount them in your evaluation of what your critic is saying.
BEWARE OF “TRIGGER WORDS”
First cousin to prejudiced listening is emotional listening which causes an irrational reaction to certain words that are loaded with special meaning for you.
You are the chairman of the committee, which will handle telephone distribution amongst the staff of your Institute. And you have been working meticulously to avoid any criticism on the guidelines you plan to propose. For example, a junior employee says to you “I was just discussing what guidelines should be with some of the men at the union hall”. Immediately, you see red. “Those ingrates!” you think. “If they think they have ability to step into my shoes, my foot”! While you’re taking mental stock of what you consider union abuses, your subordinate has told you what was actually discussed. May be you listening to him; may be you don’t.
Certain words produce a kind of hysterical deafness in each of us. Some people automatically set their minds on disapproval when they hear union. Others react just as strongly to management. But remember some words can summon instant approval: love, kindness, or success.
In any case, when “trigger words” are allowed to cast their spell good judgment and reasonableness go out the window; only unstable emotions remain. And that’s the end of effective listening.
Again, the only way to combat the effects of “trigger words” is to become consciously aware of them. The better you get to know the words that have “loaded” meanings for you, the less emotional static they’ll create for you.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
You don’t care how much experience Malay Verma has in horizontal drilling; you’ve already drawn up the vacation schedule for this year; nothing Kunal Thapa can tell you could possibly be of interest, since he never had a bright idea in his life.
Another important barrier to hearing what is really said “case-is-closed listening”, a pre-determined refusal to hear something. You dismiss a criticism as irrelevant, unwarranted, or invalid before you even begin to listen.
Yet, Malays’ experience with horizontal drilling might be invaluable to you. Even Kunal Thapa could have a sudden, inspired insight from which you might profit.
All these things might happen if you would only listen; but instead, you put mental earmuffs. Your mind is made up in advance. You have the courage of your convictions, you tell yourself. May be you do. But you don’t have all the facts.
Here is an appropriate story: When he was asked how he could bear to read all the many unflattering things written about him, Abraham Lincoln once explained, “As unreasonable as it may seem, I always think to myself, ‘It is just possible that this man knows what he is talking about.’ On that assumption, I see what I can learn from him.” It’s a rare, but wise, attitude to bring to any kind of criticism. In short, keep your minds open; and while it’s open.
3. Consider the Source
Who is criticizing you? What are his qualifications? Where has he gotten his information? Why is the criticizing you?
Finding out the answers will help you evaluate your critic’s motives and judge the validity of his comments. If his background or experience merit respect, then his criticism probably does, too. But if he is not qualified to judge your actions, don’t take what he says too seriously.
Similarly, an examination of any vested interests he may have in criticizing you can tip you off to the seriousness of his censure. For example, is he passing the buck in order to save himself from criticism? Then discount what he says accordingly. Is he criticizing from a genuine impulse to help you improve your performance? Listen to him in the same spirit. Or is he criticizing merely to vent his rage or compensate for his own inadequacies? Don’t pay too much attention.
But don’t overlook the identity, credentials or motives of your critic when the time comes to.
After he has had his say, weigh your critic’s remarks; everything you hear, of course, cannot be taken on face value. Just as you read the printed word with a critical eye, so must you learn to listen to the spoken word with a critical ear? This is the time to test his case with the questions:
If you notice any discrepancies, weaknesses, in his thinking, bear them solidly in mind when you finally
Having taken the four preceding steps, you are now ready to do something about what you have heard. If you are convinced that the criticism is valid and useful, accept it and change your ways accordingly. You may congratulate yourself on having learned something.
But if you decide that it is invalid, extract whatever you can from it- even if it is only a more realistic assessment of the critic’s character- and forget the rest. In short, view criticism for what it is: a challenge to your ability to change, improves, and grows.
One thing is certain: you will never be beyond criticism. But you can minimize your exposure to it by concentrating you energies on activities designed to garner praise.