Does being criticized make you feel small?

5 tips to take the sting out of criticism

“You should speak up more.”

“You talk too much.”

“You need to speak with more authority – like a man.”

I was on the receiving end of all these comments. Did I take them personally? You bet I did.

How do you react when you get feedback you perceive as negative? If you’re anything like me, it’s likely to be in one of these ways:

  • go on the defensive and shift the blame to the other person
  • view it as evidence of your inadequacy and heap more criticism on yourself
  • get angry and push back
  • dismiss the input as untrue without questioning it
  • internalize your resentment and let it simmer

I’ve done all of these things at different times. None of them were helpful.

I now realize that these default responses were my brain’s instinctive way of trying to protect me from what felt like an attack. But in reality, these behaviors made me feel worse. They also blinded me to potential opportunities.

Here’s the truth: as women, we are more likely to get critical feedback.

In a study of performance reviews given by male and female managers, 88% of the reviews received by women contained critical feedback. 59% of the reviews received by men did. (“The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews, Fortune, 8/26/14)

Learning to handle criticism with grace and an open mind is an invaluable skill. And though there may still be times when tough input makes you say “ouch!”, reframing it as an opportunity to learn can help take away the sting.

Here are 5 steps to help you shift how you think about criticism so you can use it to fuel your professional and personal growth.

    1. View input as data. You’re receiving new information which can be a good thing. Consider the nature of the feedback, who gave it to you and in what context. Are their insights helpful (even if at first they feel a little hurtful?) If the answer is yes, what can you learn from them? How can you address the situation in a positive way?
       
    2. Ask for clarification. If their comments are vague, ask for more information. Request specific examples so you’re clear on what prompted their feedback. By engaging in a calm, non-confrontational conversation you signal your willingness to understand their point of view and listen to their suggestions. Once you process all the input, create an action plan that outlines appropriate changes.
       
    3. Amplify your self-awareness. Have you gotten similar input from other people? Sometimes we have unconscious patterns of behavior that don’t serve us. Reflect on how your behavior is being perceived by others. If it doesn’t it align with who you aspire to be, this is your opportunity to make changes that will help you improve your performance and your interactions with others.
       
    4. Let it go. Not all criticism is constructive or well-intentioned. The person giving it may be under stress or feeling bad about themselves. You may be a convenient target for them to express their own disappointment or frustration. In a case like this, their comments say more about them than you. If you believe this is what’s going on, don’t engage with them or take their comments to heart.
       
    5. Say thank you. Honest feedback, given in the spirit of helping you do better, is a gift. Someone put time, effort and thought into giving you information that can help you improve your work, relationships and ultimately, your life. They may even have overcome their own discomfort to give you this feedback. Though it might not always be easy, express your gratitude with a sincere thank you.

Instead of letting criticism make you feel small, think of it as the breakfast of champions. Use it to get stronger, perform better and be your best.

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