Critical Responses to Criticism

Mark Vincent.

For many professionals, criticism is a daily way of life.  In our experience, some people let unnecessary criticism weigh them down and criticism can be one of the most common causes of stress.

There are, however, some actions you can take to remove the sting from the criticism directed at you by staff, clients/customers and even family members.

Firstly decide if the criticism is valid.  Failing to deal appropriately with an issue can be justifiably criticised, but the pattern of your tie or colour of your shoes cannot.  Consider too the source of the criticism and the motive behind the criticism.  If you respect the source, you will be wise to listen.  If, in criticising you, the person leveling the criticism at you is visibly upset, it may be that she or he has the problem, not  you.

If this is not the first time you have heard the criticism, you should probably take note.  However don’t overgeneralise the criticism.  The fact that there is a typo in one of your letters of advice does not mean you are a lousy provider of professional.

There are some useful reminders to keep in mind when responding to criticism:

  • do not offer excuses
  • do not retreat into silence
  • do not use dishonest agreement, i.e. appear to agree with the criticism when In reality you do not.

The last point is critical simply because, if you appear to agree, your critic will expect change, and if there is no change you are in a difficult situation.

Always help your critic by doing the following:

  • Be quiet, reign in your emotions, listen and try to hear what is actually said
  • Ask for more information using question such as ‘Can you be more specific?’
  • Seek help in finding a solution: ‘What specifically do you want me to do?’

Finally, consider the four options you have for dealing with criticism:

  • straightforward acceptance – ‘Thank you for being candid and drawing this to my attention’
  • delay – ‘I need some time to think about what you’ve said. Let’s come back to it in the morning’
  • disagree diplomatically – ‘I can appreciate how you feel but I’m sorry, I can’t feel the same way’
  • focus your disagreement– ‘I can agree with the first part of what you said but not the second part, which is untrue’

Never forget the wisdom contained in Proverbs 15:32 NLT:

If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.

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