How To Take Criticism

thecriticI’m going to break it to you now and tell you that you aren’t perfect. I know, it’s hard to hear, but it’s okay because no one expects you to be. People know you’re trying your best, and will mess up sometimes. But the best way to remind them that you indeed are trying your best is to learn to take criticism well.

Taking criticism overall means listening to what the other person has to say and seriously considering it before deciding whether you agree or not. You don’t have to agree completely, but consider the source. Is the person criticizing your work someone who knows the field? Is your friend criticizing you someone whose opinion you generally trust? Is it just another human who seems to care about the issue at hand, and should be treated with respect?

There are two main reactions to being criticized: getting defensive, and getting mopey. Both are terrible and you should do your best to avoid them, but both are understandable. Who hasn’t gotten defensive at being criticized? Your thoughts and actions are precious and special, and also probably reasonable! You want to protect them! Perhaps you start down the road of justification, explaining why you said what you said or did what you did, in hopes that the other person just didn’t understand what you were going for. Perhaps you accuse them of being ignorant, or illogical, or just mean. Yes, there are people who just like to be mean, or are seriously ignorant about things, but mainly if someone is taking the time to give you some constructive criticism it’s because they care. Listen, and really try to see if their criticism is meanspirited or if you’re just hurt that you’re getting called out.

The other reaction, which sometimes comes after getting defensive, is getting sad and mopey or mean to the point where the person criticizing you now feels that it’s their job to comfort you and tell you it’s not your fault. This may not be intentional, but in a way it’s a worse move than getting defensive, because now the blame is on the person who criticized you and hurt your feelings, instead of you for most likely doing something wrong in the first place. Symptoms of mopey-ness include: self pity, needless guilt, and endless apologizing.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t feel guilty and apologize, but that you don’t want those emotions to turn into the focus of the conversation. And the thing is, few people actually want you to feel bad about yourself when giving constructive criticism. They just want you to stop doing the one thing you were doing.

So what should you do? Well, if you see how you were wrong, you should apologize and vow to not make the same mistake moving forward. And then you should…not make the same mistake moving forward. It’s that easy! You don’t have to say anything else! Actually, you probably shouldn’t say anything else. Maybe you can ask how you can remedy the situation immediately, if you happened to offend someone, but otherwise just make the required changes and get on with your life.

Every once in a while you may receive criticism you honestly don’t agree with, even after considering the source and doing deep soul-searching about your own biases and opinions and such. Then, and only then, do you not have to apologize. You probably shouldn’t even respond, and if you do, it can be along the lines of “thank you for your input.”


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