04 February 2009

How to be Gracious Under Fire

Coffee ArgumentImage by alasdair.d via Flickr

Criticism is hard to take. Even the well meaning, thoughtful criticism from people who sincerely want to help you be better bruises your ego a little and can make you feel defensive. When it comes to the nasty, vitriolic stuff . . . well, it can be hard to accept it with any kind of grace - even when its justified!

But its important to learn to graciously respond to criticism - especially the mean-spirited stuff and the feedback delivered in anger. There is no value in responding in kind. Even though it is sooooo tempting and might feel good for a moment, in the long run no one comes out of it a winner and nothing positive is gained.

I've had to deal with a bit of criticism in my time. Some of it I have been hugely appreciative of, some of it not so much. But every criticism I have received (even the stuff I've felt to be completely unjustified) has offered up opportunities to learn something about myself and to become better.

I struggle not to respond to negative feedback with more negativity . . . an angry retort when I feel the critique to be unfair or wallowing in self-loathing over my weaknesses when they are brought to my attention. Neither of these responses are particularly conducive to personal growth!

So, how do you respond to criticism graciously?

  • Wait
    If your first impulse is to respond defensively, then take a few deep breaths. Give yourself a moment (or two) to calm down and cool off. Don't make your response until you can be more objective.

  • Is it really so important to be right?
    Sometimes it really is more important to be kind than it is to be right. Put yourself in the other person's shoes - maybe they have a valid point but haven't expressed it well, maybe they're having a bad day, maybe you've inadvertently hit a nerve . . .

    Its tempting to argue, its tempting to point out all the reasons why they are wrong, its tempting to pick holes in their reasoning, call attention to their own failings, resort to name calling . . . but it serves no purpose, creates even more negativity and is ultimately a waste of your energy.

    So be kind. Thank them for their feedback. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Move on.

  • Look for lessons
    There is always a lesson. Whether its something directly related to the criticism you received, a lesson about other people, or a lesson about yourself.

    Be honest with yourself. Its not always easy to accept that your critic may have a point - especially when their criticism is delivered in anger. But try to consider that you may indeed have room to improve.

    And if there are changes you need to make . . . then make them.

  • Don't dwell on it
    Don't let the fact that your weaknesses have been exposed get you down. We're none of us perfect. If the feedback received was fair and useful - implement it and move on. Be grateful of the opportunity to become a better person.

    When the criticism wasn't so constructive or was just plain out nasty, don't take it personally. Often, mean-spirited criticism isn't about you, its about your critic - a manifestation of their own insecurities, fears and troubles. Learn what you can from it and let it go.

How do you handle criticism?

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