I remember my boss criticising me back in the days when I had a corporate skin. It stopped me in my tracks. One minute I was flying high, the next I was deflating like a popped balloon. I felt like I was such a failure.
Criticism can hit us from all sides – in our relationships, at work, on social media. And let me tell you that women at ALL levels of business success admit to feeling not good enough already – add criticism to that and you have a recipe for stuckness! (Yeah, new word.)
Criticism can suck. It makes us feel like we’re at fault, can damage our confidence and limit our ability to meet our goals in life and at work and our natural reaction to that is to be defensive because it naturally feels like someone is attacking us.
Our brain’s natural reaction to ‘danger’ (whether that’s real and physical or perceived and emotional) is more extreme than to pleasure. And that’s because of our brain’s “negativity bias”: Our brain is simply programmed to be more sensitive to unpleasant news.
Reasons for criticism
But it's also important to recognise that there may be many reasons why someone criticises us:
They may have our best interests at heart and want us to do better
Perhaps they are insecure about themselves and their abilities, and criticising others may make them feel better
Their criticism may be an attempt to cover up their own failings
Maybe they are envious of us and so exaggerate what they see as our failings
Criticism can sometimes be a way to take the focus off themselves because they feel threatened in some way
They may have never been trained in how to give feedback in a constructive way and so are unskilled in this area, falling back on their own experiences of criticism
Clearly, we want to think that it’s the first reason which is motivating the person who is criticising us but realising that there may be other motivations for both the nature and tone of their feedback can be helpful and diffusing the initial emotional reaction we have to it.
Our past experience creates patterns
If we have grown up with criticism or experienced a pattern of criticism in a relationship or with an authority figure in our lives we can become used to reacting to that negative feedback in a particular way.
That reaction could be being aggressive, defensive, shutting down, crying, or internalising it and believing it to be a ‘truth’ rather than just someone else’s’ opinion or attempt to control us.
We're going to experience criticism from time to time whatever the reason for it. Here are 9 mindset shifts to help you manage criticism in your life and work:
1. Consider what you can learn from the criticism
It may be painful to hear that you haven’t done as well as you thought you had, but what is the one thing that you can change as a result which will help you to improve?
2. Respond to the suggestion and note the tone of the criticism
Try to detach yourself from the emotion and become aware when you are focusing only on the distortions or exaggerations that inevitably arise.
3. Value criticism as a way to grow
If you only ever received praise it would be difficult for us to make any progress. View criticism as an opportunity for growth by challenging yourself.
4. Don’t take criticism personally or see it as a personal attack
When we provide feedback to other people we tend to highlight a behaviour or activity. But when we receive criticism we often take it as a criticism of our inner selves and extrapolate that something is wrong with US rather than our actions or behaviours. Be aware of this bias in yourself.
5. Ignore false criticism
Some negative feedback is justified, but when it isn’t don’t let it touch you. Think of it as insignificant as an ant trying to harm an elephant. If you feel the need to fight the feedback you give it energy but if you remain detached from it then you don’t allow it to have any power over you. Ask a trusted friend if there is a grain of truth in the criticism. If there isn’t then you can safely ignore it.
6. Shift the energy with a question
Ask the person criticising you how they would like to see you making a change as a result of their feedback. This shifts their energy from negative feedback to positive action which diffuses the situation. It also shows that you have listened and accepted their feedback and are willing to make a change. Finally, it takes away the emotion so that you are both focusing on moving forward.
7. Words can never hurt you
Remember that school-yard song “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me?” Well there is some truth in that because it isn’t actually another person’s words that make us feel bad – it’s the thoughts that we have about those words and the story we create in our minds which we respond emotionally to. If we can shift those thoughts and change the story we can change the way we respond.
8. Know that you’re not broken
When we’re criticised it’s easy to think that we’re broken in some way and that we need to take action in order to make ourselves whole again. But you are not broken – consider instead that any action you take as a result of criticism you receive isn’t not making your whole but making you even better than you already are.
9. Give yourself time to reflect
Respond positively to criticism without committing immediately to making any changes and give yourself time to reflect by using a response like this: “It’s not easy to hear what you’re telling me, but I want you to know that I’m going to give it a lot of thought.”
No-one likes receiving criticism but using these 9 simple mindset shifts will help you to reframe criticism and stop it from destroying your confidence.