If we choose to regard anything less than praise as an attack, then we cease to hear anything useful a critic may have to say. Yet taking all criticism as the gospel truth, regardless of source, intent, or validity is not very smart either.
A helpful key, according to Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist who blogs for “Psychology Today,” is to differentiate between criticism and feedback:
– Criticism tends to be judgmental and accusatory, involving labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider behavior.
– Criticism often makes negative assumptions about motives. Feedback focuses on the actual result of the behavior.
– Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry, undermining any benefits. Feedback solicits the input and ideas of the other party and involves both in a search for solutions and potential improvement opportunities.
One of the most effective ways to help is not to tell people what they did wrong, but ask them to analyze what they think they could have done better and help them develop concrete plans to be more effective in the future.
Involvement breeds commitment. Always focus on removing restraining forces rather than trying to increase driving forces. Criticism, increasing stress, is a form of driving force. Involving the other party in a mutual search for solutions is a way of removing restraining forces.
Remember! The meaning of any message you send is revealed in the response you receive. You may have meant to send helpful, friendly, feedback but if you get a defensive response, it means the message received was different from the one you intended to send.
Receiving criticism effectively can be as difficult as giving it. “Experts say that when hearing criticism the important thing is to listen. Don’t go on the defensive, but don’t assume the critic is right. Although it’s not always easy, try to determine which information is valuable and relevant and which isn’t. While your first instinct may be to argue or apologize and quickly leave the room, stay and calmly ask questions to clarify the situation.” (The Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2009, “For Best Results, Take the Sting Out of Criticism.”)
“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” — Robert Burns, Scottish poet; 1759—1796
“The way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Green Hubbard, American writer, publisher, artist, philosopher; 1856‑1915
“You’ve got to be flexible and open. How something is said may rub you the wrong way, but you need to hear what they say. You can’t just shut it down because it’s not praise.” — Lisa Orrell, writer