How to navigate criticism and learn not to take it to heart

No-one enjoys being criticised and negative and hurtful comments (or the fear of them) often prevent people from being brave to going for the things they want in life.

How to navigate criticism and learn not to take it to heart (F)
Criticism – Via Shutterstock

You might ask yourself ‘What if people don’t like my idea?’ or ‘What if I fail and everyone sees?’. The thing about achieving anything much worthwhile in life is that it, to some degree, involves us sticking our necks out and standing out from the herd. It so important yet doing this is can often leave us feeling exposed.

Developing successful strategies for dealing with criticism doesn’t need to involve becoming cold and hard. The good news is there are some fairly easy ways to take the hurt out of criticism and even make use of it:

Find your Trusted Loved Ones (TLO)

TLO’s are people in our lives who know you well, love you and respect you. They could be a respected colleague. These people are your criticism filters, when you have received some criticism you can go to them and ask ‘Is this valid? Do they have a point?’. Having TLOs in your life is a critical part of being connected and loved but it is also key to you becoming free of hurt from criticism. Often criticism is received from people who don’t really know us or are dumping their own stuff on us, so TLO’s help sort out what we need to hear from what is, basically, someone else’s rubbish.

Don’t ignore it

Ignoring criticism isn’t actually possible, once you’ve heard it or seen it it’s there. Work through criticism rather than pretending to ignore it, if you don’t it will just stay looked up inside you, controlling your behaviour and emotions. Avoid being defensive or arguing with someone who is critical, this just compounds your negative feelings (and gives the other person power over you). Say ‘thanks, I’ll think about that’, or ‘I’ll consider what you’ve said’, or ask for clarity if it doesn’t make sense to you. We often say ‘Don’t get furious, get curious’. When you approach criticism with curiosity rather than defensiveness you can easily work through what there really is, if anything, in this for you to take away. Sometimes our critics can be our most powerful learning opportunities.

Set up a bin in your mind for pointless criticism

We all need somewhere to ‘bin’ criticism that is worthless to us, distinguishing what is and isn’t valid is easier than you think. It’s way of processing criticism and is not the same as ignoring it, you are considering it based on a set of criteria. You can create your own set of criteria, here are some to get you started:

Anyone who criticised you anonymously

People who don’t put their name to their opinions, those opinions should go straight in the bin. I’m not talking about whistle blowing or sensitive issues here where anonymity is important, it’s about online posts, feedback forms or people who give you second hand criticism ‘someone said something about you and I think you should know…’.

People often ask me abut 360 degree feedback, where it is deliberately anonymous. Look at the themes in this feedback rather than specific comments. 360 can be used by people in a blame culture to dump on others, so specific comments are not important so much as the overall theme. If over 40% of feedback is saying the same thing, it’s worth looking at. The odd one or two comments are not.

Any criticism about your appearance or identity

No-one has the right to criticise how you look or you as a person. I’m a member of many online forums and I’m shocked at how many people make fun of, or criticise people personally or how they look. When people do this is says more about them than you. I heard a great presenter on a talk radio show last week take on a caller who criticised the appearance of a politician. He made it clear he was interested in her opinion of the persons behaviour but if you criticise someones appearance it just cheapens those opinions and makes us all look bad. I cheered him from behind my steering wheel, more of us need to courage to stand up to that kind of behaviour.

In Real Leaders for the Real World we identify that the ability to use feedback to succeed is essential not only for any good leader but everyone. To be able to use criticism and sort out the destructive from the constructive you need to develop good strategies to avoid being afraid of criticism. Remember – anything worth hearing is not going to be universally popular. All great ideas have their critics, don’t let fear of it get in your way.

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