Whether it’s our inner critic or external critics, we often find it hard not to be influenced by what they say; we lash out and get defensive, we question our abilities, or we allow an offhand comment to ruin a relationship. If someone is constantly picking on you, then perhaps there is no solution; however, in most cases there are better ways to handle the situation than by crying in a corner, screaming at them or taking it personally.
First, you need to remember that there’s a difference between unfair criticism and constructive criticism: both are hard to hear, but both have their merits and constructive criticism, especially, is intended only to help you, not hurt you. Unlike constructive criticism, unfair criticism may simply aim to hurt your feelings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a grain of truth to it; rather than letting it devastate you, you should seriously think about it and do what you can to make use of it while not letting it turn into a grudge between you and the critic.
I can’t guarantee that these are exactly the same kinds of steps your favourite actor or author takes when dealing with a harsh review - they never respond, for one - but if imagining them doing these same things is what will help you to remember to do them in the future, then go for it. Read on for some of the top ways to deal with haters:
1. Accept That You're Not Perfect
I know, it’s not easy, but surely you’ve been trying to come to terms with this idea since you left university and started finding out what people in the real world think of you. While it’s great that parents are hard wired to assure us that we’re brilliant, and teachers also try to help us do our best, it doesn’t do us many favours when it comes to being able to accept criticism.
Here’s the harsh truth: you will make mistakes. If you don’t, you aren’t venturing far enough out of your comfort zone. It’s good to be an optimist and go into projects assuming that not everything will go horribly wrong, but the more you convince yourself it’ll go perfectly, the harder it will be if (or when) someone informs you it hasn’t.
By accepting that you aren’t perfect, and that useful criticism can come from peers, as well as superiors, you become a more complete person capable of understanding that people can often see things about you that you don’t notice yourself. Let them see those things, listen to them when they warn you about the not-so-good things, and take it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
2. Don't Take It Personally
This advice doesn’t make total literal sense, as criticism will always be about you or something you’ve done. However, not taking something personally means not taking it as an attack on you as a person; they aren’t saying that you’re a terrible person, or awful at your job, they’re just saying that you’ve made a mistake. If anything, you should be worried if people don’t criticize, as they might be thinking you’re beyond help.
Instead of getting offended, understand that these people are part of your wider company team and they’re just trying to help you - and themselves - by ensuring that the work is done as well as it could be done. If you happened to be working on this project alone, then make sure that they properly understand what you were doing and why you did what you did - try responding with "I can see why you might think that, but..." and you’ll find that it’s much more productive than "I’m rubber, you’re glue."
3. Listen Carefully
While responding might be a bad idea, especially in the heat of the moment, shutting them out completely isn’t any better. Be mature and accept that they may be making some valid points that you can learn from; if anything, rather than not listen you should listen carefully to properly understand what they’re trying to tell you. Don’t fall into the trap of deciding they’re going to say something horrible and then only picking up on the words you’re looking for: context is important.
Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from what they’re saying so you aren’t doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Decide which parts of their criticism are the most valid - and what points you’ve heard before - and resolve to do something about them. Turn what you’re doing wrong into goals that you’re going to start doing right, and create a teamwork atmosphere by letting others help you. You’ll feel less attacked, they’ll feel like they were heard, and you should find yourself criticized less in the future.
4. Don't Hold a Grudge
In the words of Elsa, let it go! (Sorry. Had to.) If you start keeping track of every little bit of criticism, especially without talking about it with someone, then all you’re going to do is turn yourself into an emotional wreck who at some point will be unable to work efficiently. While venting is good, you should be careful where you do it and who to; all venting should happen outside the office, whether your BFF is a coworker or not, so there’s no risk of the wrong person overhearing and turning your vent into gossip.
When dealing with the critic, don’t vow to avoid them for the rest of time, but talk to them: let them know that what they said hurt you and ask how you might work together to fix things. The only way to truly avoid a certain person is to leave the company, and if you do that every time you get a bit of criticism then you’ll never settle down.
When dealing with the criticism itself, choose to accept it, learn from it, and put it behind you; if you hold onto it, your self-doubt will grow to the point that you stop taking risks, and that’s definitely not the way to go if you want your career to advance. Criticism should be heard, accepted, evaluated -to find the things you can improve on- and then moved on from as you go forward to become a better worker.
5. Wait Before You Respond
If you’re being complimented, you should learn how to take it gracefully in the moment. If you’re being criticized, however, it’s time to slow down. If you can (gracefully) physically remove yourself from the situation, do so; if you can’t, get yourself to your mental happy place until you’re ready to respond in a less emotional way. If your critic was only looking to hurt you, then responding in a way that lets them know it worked will only fuel them further: is that what you really want?
Once you’ve calmed down, you can go back to them and discuss it rationally. First, you’ll want to make sure that they really were criticizing you; in a moment of defensiveness, you may have actually misunderstood feedback for criticism, or they may have worded it badly to make it sound more negative than it was. If you find that they were being critical, ask for more information to check that you understand their issue and exactly what you did, and then ask them for some advice on what to do about it.
6. Control the Criticism
Different people handle things differently; some are more public, some are more private, some like things in writing and others love talking face to face. If this criticism is coming from something like a feedback session with your boss, then make sure they know your preferences on the when and how to give it; perhaps you’re more receptive in the morning, after lunch, or maybe you would appreciate an email first so you can process the information before having the face to face meeting.
If you’re giving a presentation, consider asking that any criticism is held until the end so you don’t lose your flow; if possible, you might prefer to even ask the critics to wait until everyone else has left so you can deal with them in a more calm manner. However you choose to do it, try to ensure that everyone knows and you should be able to avoid future humiliation; don’t start trying to ask that no one ever criticizes you, as it suggests that you aren’t interested in improving yourself. The real world doesn’t care about your feelings.
7. Be Grateful
If they’re only criticizing you to hurt your feelings, then the best thing you can do to get back at them is to say thank you. Imagine how they’ll feel if they’re looking to get a reaction out of you and all they get is a polite "I appreciate your feedback, that’s something to think about going forward."
If they’re looking to help you, this response is a mature way of acknowledging their effort and letting them know that you’re listening. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re agreeing with them, but it’s allowing for your future interactions to be productive.
In any case, you should always be grateful for criticism: it encourages us to think about things in different ways and can improve our relationships if it’s the start of a useful to and fro. Most people - your boss especially - really are just saying it to help, and those few who aren’t are usually just trying to make you feel bad in order to feel better about themselves. Besides, think about it: does anyone criticize the shy mouse in the corner that never puts themselves out there? No. Criticism means you’ve done something worth noticing, and that’s something to be proud of.
No one likes being criticized, regardless of whether it’s someone just being cruel or a well-intentioned boss trying to make you a better employee. However, just like all the other things we don’t like doing in our lives, it’s something that’s inevitable and pretty important to learn how to face: you never know what brilliant bit of wisdom you’ll discover if you’re just willing to listen, and people will respect you much more than if you take it badly, or just ignore it and carry on doing what you were doing before.
How do you handle criticism? Do you have any other advice? Let us know in the comments section below.