Everyone gets criticism, everyone handles it differently.

Imagine a piano with its wonderful 88 keys. Comparatively speaking, our tolerance of criticism is often at Middle C – on a scale from the most debilitating reaction and fear (the lower octaves) to being welcomed and encouraged (the higher octaves).

“Don’t take this the wrong way but…”

“If I can offer some constructive criticism…”

“Can I give you some advice for next time?”

As soon as someone utters those words, our bodies tense up, we mentally prepare for something unpleasant and their words are then lost as we don’t actually hear what is being said.  All we hear is that little voice in our heads that tells us we weren’t good enough.

Many people when given criticism just say thank you and move on, if not a little irritated for a while. But what if you are in a position where the fear of criticism has become so debilitating that you can’t even speak to your boss incase they dare to criticise you? What if you have to avoid working with others incase anyone dare offer an opinion on your work that would remotely resemble criticism? That’s hardly helpful in the workplace and will seriously affect your ability to do your job.

Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking said:

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”.

If you believe that, you have no problem. If you don’t, you should consider it.  No one got anywhere in life by surrounding themselves with ‘yes’ people or those who wouldn’t offer you criticism when you need it.  The good news is you can overcome this fear.

  1.  Accept that whatever you do – there will be a critic – to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.  This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to both the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and the American publisher Elbert Hubbard.  Only by doing nothing in life will you avoid criticism.  Is that what you want? No. So remember the 2 sides of the coin – praise and criticism – you must accept both equally.
  2.  Don’t avoid it – you have accepted you will be criticised for something, anything, don’t avoid it.  Avoidance is such a destructive path that you will only fulfil a fraction of your potential and you will certainly not grow as a person.  Don’t hold back on your talent or your goals, whatever they may be.
  3. Keep the criticism in balance – who is offering the criticism? Did you let them? Does their opinion matter? Do they actually have anything constructive to offer – you should be very clear on who gets to offer this to you.  Some you will accept – your boss for example, your friends, your family.  Others – dismiss them.  You know who has something to offer from a place of support.
  4. Remember criticism for what it is – mostly it isn’t supposed to be personal.  Most people will not offer criticism because they want to offend you.  It usually comes from those trying to be helpful and aimed at your work or your behaviour.  The delivery might be poor from some but think about what they are offering and try to separate the criticism from a personal attack.
  5. Take it or leave it – criticism will help you grow.  No doubt about that.  But you are in control of it once it comes your way.  Separate the important from the unimportant and use this as your next step on the road to improvement.

Remember, handling criticism the right way and controlling how you manage it should feed your career and your life, not your insecurity.


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