Having our work analyzed critically can be tough to take. I don’t even like the word criticism. It doesn’t matter if it is constructive criticism or destructive criticism, I would much prefer to use critique or evaluation. Why? Because criticism has an automatic wasp sting to it of condemnation, judgment, and belittling; but critique comes with a feeling of honest, helpful, and genuine appraisal.
One of the best explanations of criticism as a dynamic is found in the book The Artist’s Way at Work. The three authors give their take on the subject:
“Most of us hear accurate criticism with openness. Even if the criticism is pointed, we experience it as a healing scalpel, not a lance. When criticism is accurate, it relieves because it supports our desire to do well. The fact is that most people want to do a great job.
“Unfair criticism is indirect, unprincipled, and ambiguous; personal, negative, and derogatory. And criticism that addresses us as people rather than addresses us as potentially competent is toxic criticism.”
Now this is the meaty part:
“Toxic criticism creates toxic work environments - negative, backbiting, and backsliding - where honesty becomes harder and harder to come by. Expecting that confronting problems will only bring us pain and debasement, we defend rather than listen, lie rather than explore, deny rather than experience the situation. Eventually, our anger at ourselves for being inauthentic festers until we strike out in defiance or succumb to burnout. This dynamic can happen at any level in a company. Defiance creates resistance, and resistance to criticism creates stalemates. Stalemates create stagnation, which creates depression, which breeds despair. A despairing work environment is truly abysmal: counter productive, anti-creative, and all too common.”
Some ways to deal with criticism:
1) Be aware the body’s flight or fight response will may make you immediately defensive and seek justification. Let that go.
2) Realize we usually see other’s faults better than our own, so maybe there is truth or at least a lesson in it. Turn the negative into a positive.
3) Diffuse with listening patiently and saying, “How would you have done it differently?” or “How can I (we) improve this?”
4) When you have taken the other person’s words in, thought about them, and found them true and valuable — thank them.
5) When you have taken the other person’s words in, thought about them, and found them invalid, ask, “Can I give you my perspective here, so I can understand you better?”
What other ways have you found to take criticism or critiques with grace and poise?
Kare Anderson writes that what we praise and criticize reveals a lot about us, that criticism is a two-way mirror. She adds, “Praise indicates what they most like about themselves and criticism often shows what they least like or feel least competent about in themselves.”
Do you find Anderson’s statement true for you?
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Photo credit: speech path girl
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