Every leader, every manager, every executive, and every human being gets criticized for something or the other at several points of time in their life – oftentimes they might even receive criticism multiple times per day. As a Leadership Coach, I have seen criticism bog down many people.

Let’s begin here: What is criticism?

Criticism is nothing but an assessment, an opinion or a judgment held (and may be) shared by an individual for another individual, group of people or about something else. When this assessment, opinion or judgment is assessed to be negative then it may be called criticism.

The key thing to know about criticism is that it is not ‘the truth’. It is just an opinion or a judgment by another.

Most times the idea of sharing a criticism is to get the other to person to perform better. Instead of assisting the person to perform better, criticism may sometimes work to do the exact opposite. The performance of the person may further deteriorate and thus may begin a seemingly uncontrollable downward spiral.

Here are some thoughts on how you can more effectively deal with criticism. While these are seemingly simple ideas, the value of these ideas is not in knowing them. The value lies in you practicing the use of these, so that these become a part of your embodiment.

Consider ‘for the sake of what’ has this feedback or criticism been provided to you

There are many ‘ways’ to listen to criticism. The words may defeat the person providing feedback or criticism. However, you as a listener have a choice to listen for the purpose of the feedback — rather than just the words of the feedback. One way to ‘listen’ to criticism is understanding it’s feedback. The feedback may not be as you expected, and may even initially seem like criticism. However, you have a choice to ‘listen’ to the criticism as ‘feedback’ and look for its usefulness for you.

Acknowledge the criticism

Restaurants dole out feedback forms to their customers after their meals requesting feedback. From my friends in the hospitality industry, I understand these guys wait to review any negative feedback or criticism so that they can start to see what they have missed out on. While they appreciate positive feedback, it is the criticism that they draw their attention on to better their service.

Criticism is a great for you to see your ‘blind spots’ i.e., things about you that you did not see. Acknowledge the person who helped you see this. Without this person’s ‘criticism’ you would continue to remain blind in that area (while most others may see that about you).

Seek out what is true for you

Sometimes you may believe that the criticism was unwarranted. As I’ve worked with more coaching clients, though, I have seen that even the most farfetched criticism may contain a grain of relevance for the receiver. Rather than dismissing the criticism right at the outset, it may be worthwhile to ‘look’ for a grain of relevance for you in this criticism. Use what you think is relevant for you and feel free to ignore the non-essentials.

Identify the underlying issues

Conflicts sometimes flare up over minor issues when more serious resentments have been buried. For example, your manager may still be upset about a year-old issue when she complains about the incompleteness of your current reports. So, your reports, complete or not, aren’t the real issue here. Identify the underlying issues; to do so, it may be worthwhile for you to request a conversation with the concerned person. In the conversation, with an open mind, listen to the real concerns behind what that person is saying. This may help you work out real challenges together.

It is only their assessment and not the truth

Be rigorous with yourself, and consider every word of the feedback given to you. However, remember, feedback given to you is only an assessment of another person and not the gospel truth. Successful people have all been criticized, and a lot of that criticism is unwarranted. Take criticism in your stride.

Let go

Once you have evaluated the feedback, and you believe it has no relevance for you, junk it! While a lot of people believe they have junked it, the feedback remains with them in the back of their minds as real. If the feedback is of value, take action. If it is of no value – let it go.

Remain calm and centered

Whatever is at the root of your conflicts, you’ll make more headway by staying calm. Criticism is generally for actions taken, not taken or not taken effectively in the realm of the past. There is nothing you can do to change that. However, what a lot of people do is get upset and all worked up, and thereby mess up their present and future. As mentioned in the points above, be rigorous with your self. If the criticism opens up your blindness and reveals new action, take the new action. If the criticism has no relevance for you, ignore it. All this can only be done only when you are calm and centered.

Take a moment to think of a recent criticism you received. How did you respond to that criticism? Could you have responded differently based on the above points? This is an opportunity for you to journal your thoughts and possible future actions that you can take when you receive criticism in the future.

In my experience, a slight shift in the way we receive criticism can shape new future actions, and hence new future results.

About Sameer Dua

Founder Director, Program Leader and Leadership Coach, The Institute for Generative Leadership, India.

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