Criticism: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Photo by @freepik via freepik.com
How to react to different types of criticism; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly
There are different types of criticism, but all criticism hurts. It can hit you when you are at work, at home, or just happily checking social media. Criticism can provide helpful feedback, but it can also ruin your day and seriously shake your self-esteem. We all know what it is like to be criticized and have all succumbed to the temptation of lashing out to offer our unrestrained opinion about something someone did or didn’t do. Anytime someone is criticizing you, they are comparing you against some specific standards, whether it is their own or those of an organization such as a work environment highlighting your failure to reach those standards. There are different types of criticism, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Frequent and poorly delivered criticism is a breeder of conflict in personal and work relationships, and can trigger anger, resentment, withdrawal, stress, and anxiety. Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain. Artists build and create something out of nothing. Critics destroy something to make it into nothingness. It is easier to be a critic than an artist; before you criticize someone’s work, try to be an artist first.
According to Aristotle, you can easily avoid criticism by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing, but this is not actually a viable option. Instead of hiding behind a rock to try to escape being criticized let’s come out in the open and see if we can learn and practice the art of criticizing with kindness, and also learn the art of knowing how to deal with critical people.
Different types of criticism; constructive, destructive, and self-criticism
Constructive criticism is good criticism; it is healthy and is designed to point out your mistakes, but also show you where and how improvements can be made. If we don’t know what our weaknesses are, how will we ever grow or change? Constructive criticism should be viewed as useful feedback that can help you improve yourself rather than put you down. When criticism is constructive it is usually easier to accept, even if it still hurts a little. We all make mistakes; it is human nature. As we go through life, we have plenty of opportunities to learn and improve ourselves. We should try to take criticism on board to help us be a better person. Naysayers have a job to do, see them as a disguised teammate whose job is to help you grow and help you build a thicker skin. Both personal and professional success depends on being able to take criticism in your stride. The ability to hear and truly listen to people’s opinions, even when they are negative, improves relationships, academic performance, and negotiating skills.
Destructive criticism on the other hand is unhealthy. It could be thoughtlessness by another person who skipped their emotional intelligence class at school, but it can also be deliberately malicious and hurtful. It aims to show that the person or object has no worth or validity. It is meant to tear you down. If you are finding yourself at the receiving end of some destructive criticism, I suggest that you give them the cold shoulder treatment and look at them with utter disdain, remembering they are not worthy of your attention.
It is worth noting that not all constructive criticism is delivered gently and not all destructive criticism is delivered harshly. There are times when people will lash at you with a seemingly mean comment or observation, but once you got over the initial shock and start thinking about it rationally you realize that they may have a point. Other times, you have people who are seemingly sweet and gentle who will fire an ‘innocent’ comment about your appearance on that particular day whilst flashing a bright smile, but all aimed at destroying your self-image and self-confidence. We have all seen the movie Mean Girls, right?!
Self-Criticism is that little voice inside your head that keeps repeating to you that you are not good enough, you never going to be able to do this and that, filling you with self-doubt and a toxic attitude. Self-critical individuals experience feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, failure, and guilt. However, self-criticism is different from self-reflection and self-evaluation.
The capacity for self-reflection is a key quality of being human. Self-reflection can be helpful when it involves an objective evaluation of ourselves, our thinking, feeling, and behavior. It can beneficially support our wisdom in a variety of ways. Self-reflection helps us connect with ourselves and notice negative patterns in our life, it helps us process complex emotions, identify values, and support decision-making. Constructive self-evaluation offers us information about what went wrong and what we might do differently the next time. By contrast, self-criticism involves a knee-jerk reflection that is demeaning, devaluing, and destructive.
The antidote for self-criticism is self-compassion, self-soothing, and learning ways to calm our bodies and our emotions. Self-compassion provides us with increased acceptance of who we are as a whole, our strengths but also our weaknesses, flaws, and mistakes.
How to criticize with kindness
In a working environment learning to criticize with kindness can save you the unpleasantness of an expensive lawsuit from employees. Ellen DeGeneres experienced this unpleasantness last year as it came to light that Warner Media investigated the Ellen DeGeneres Show following a series of allegations of racism, workplace intimidation, and other mistreatment made by employees who complained about the toxic work culture.
Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear people complaining about their boss and confiding in friends and family about how much they hate their boss. Why is this such a common occurrence? Probably because the boss has also skipped the emotional intelligence class when they were at school and picked up a ‘not-so-nice-attitude’ that continued all the way up the corporate ladder. Being at the head of an organization, being successful, rich, and famous does not give you a free pass for being an asshole (please excuse my French), but I couldn’t find any better word to illustrate my point. I have no insight into the Ellen DeGeneres saga, I have no way of knowing that she is indeed a horrible boss, but a lot of people already came forward to express such feelings. Whatever the situation, maybe this internal investigation wouldn’t have seen the light of day if Ellen knew and practiced the art of criticizing with kindness and her staff knew and practiced the art of dealing with critical people. Now that the cat is out of the bag it is going to be difficult to bring it back home.
In a personal environment, criticism can be the one thing that can damage and break a marriage. Dr. John Gottman, a renowned American psychologist, and researcher who has done extensive work over the past four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability argues that there are four main relationship killers: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. He calls them The four horsemen of the apocalypse. The first horseman is notably Criticism. When you harshly, unfairly, and unkindly criticize your partner, you run the risk of suggesting that your partner’s personality is defective and unworthy. Submitting your partner to a regular flow of criticism will definitely hurt your partner’s feelings and will generate a lot of anger, resentment, and toxicity within the relationship. So, if you have some criticism you would like to share with your partner best to do it with humor and compassion and in a constructive and sensitive manner.
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”
– Frank A. Clark
I hope this article has helped you understand the different types of criticism and convinced you of the benefits of learning to criticize with kindness. Whether you are at work or within the comfort of your own home and are controlling your own urge to lash out at someone, you can’t control the fact that someone else may not have the same restraint towards you. You may find yourself at the receiving end of some hurtful comments. So, how do you react?
How to deal with critical people?
- Stay calm! Repeat to yourself the wise words of Lao Tzu: If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. Staying calm and being patient in one moment of anger does not mean that you are rolling over and accepting to be the silent victim of some unwarranted criticism. It just gives you enough time and space to analyze the situation as rationally as you possibly can (bearing in mind that someone just hurt your feelings a minute ago) and gives you time to plan your next move.
- Consider the source and the value of the criticism. Take the time (a few minutes can suffice) to ask yourself whether or not the opinion of the person criticizing you is worth worrying about. Once you have identified that criticism as being destructive rather than constructive, it becomes easier to dismiss the comment by ignoring it or by firing a measured but pointy remark and continue going about your business of being awesome.
- If, from the different types of criticism, you’ve identified feedback as constructive, allow yourself to acknowledge that no matter how harshly or poorly worded, that person might just have a point. It is good to be confident in yourself and your abilities, but it is also important to accept that you might be wrong. If you stay on the defensive you rob yourself of valuable opportunities for growth.
- If after analyzing the situation you are still of the view that the criticism is not warranted, then whisper to yourself that you can’t please everyone and that’s OK. Builders are gonna build. Critics are gonna criticize, and Haters are gonna hate.
Understanding the different types of criticism is a learned skill and needs practice. You may find some solace in Theodore Roosevelt’s famous Be in the Arena speech while you are learning.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Criticizing with kindness is an art that can save you a hundred days of sorrow. Understanding the different types of criticism and learning how to deal with critical people is an art that can save you lots of heartaches.
And your Quest, my dear friend, is to learn and practice this art.