Giving and receiving criticism is a challenge. It brings up emotions that disrupt relationships and hinder personal improvement.
Part of what makes it so challenging is the way the word is defined and the bias that definition creates. Most dictionaries initially define criticism as an expression of disapproval. Synonyms are attack, censure, condemnation, and disapproval.
When we go a bit deeper we find that criticism can be both positive, giving praise, and negative, pointing out flaws. There are synonyms such as analysis, evaluation, and assessment.
The point is that whether criticism is negative or whether it is positive it needs to be integrated into your work on yourself.
Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion! Robert Burns
If your goal is to become happier, relieve stress, get better at relationships and hone your professional, artistic or other skills, then you are pursuing improvement and optimal performance; maybe even enlightenment. The implication is that you acknowledge that your thinking, speech and behavior are not yet perfect; that you have some improving to do.
Now, this doesn't mean that you are not entirely perfect as you are. But, for most of us, it would be delusional to think that there is no room for eliminating the imperfections that keep us from realizing our innate perfection. As Leonard Cohen has taught, "There is a crack in everything." When we accept that, then, "that's how the light gets in."
Yet, even people trained in communication, facilitation and coaching tip toe around criticism. They avoid using terms like "imperfection." Why? Because some people do not like to face the reality that their behavior is imperfect. When they are forced to own up to that reality, they become self-deprecating and depressed. They are so identified with their behavior that they cannot objectively observe it. They may become angry and direct that anger internally or externally. They may turn-off and ignore criticism. Or, they may say, "Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to improve."
As an individual are you ready to open yourself to criticism? Are you willing and able to focus on the content rather than being put off by the delivery and how you perceive it? For example, if you perceive the critic as being angry, rude or insensitive, do you discount or disregard the content?
There are two sides to criticism - giving and receiving. When we give criticism, it impacts the way others perceive us. When we are criticized, it impacts the way we perceive the critic and ourselves. Note that sometimes, the critic and the object of criticism are both you. Your inner critique is often more critical than the outer ones.
Apply social intelligence to have a sense of the way the recipient will take the input and how best to present it. Apply emotional intelligence to know how your emotions may be coloring your response. You are responsible for managing your words and behavior. Apply spiritual intelligence to remember that we are interconnected.
Think Namaste - I bow to the perfection which is in you that is also in me.
How to Give Criticism
There is no recipe, but there are these guidelines for giving criticism:
- While you can influence someone else's behavior, don't think you can change it; only they can do that
- Step back to mindfully observe your own motivation, mind-set and demeanor
- Decide whether what you are about to say is
- true - be ready with facts and specific instances
- useful - constructive, actionable
- motivated by kindness and compassion
- Set the stage - engage the other party; state your intention; make sure the other party is open and receptive; address the idea that everyone can grow from criticism
- Put yourself in the recipient's position
- Seek to understand
- Focus on behavior - what people do or say - NOT who they are
- Avoid embarrassing
- Listen and read body language more than you talk
- Acknowledge positive behavior
- State your expectations
- Seek mutual understanding and buy in - does the other party agree that there is a problem and what to do about it?
How to Take Criticism
The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment." - Elbert Hubbard
Just as there are guidelines for giving there are guidelines for receiving:
- You are not your behavior - step back
- Be mindful of arising emotions
- Avoid defensiveness, withdrawal and angry responses
- Focus on the content and assess its truth and usefulness
- Don't beat yourself up - everyone has something to improve upon
- Be grateful that someone cares enough to give you feedback
- Seek mutual understanding.
Reflection for Going Forward
It takes courage to accept criticism, however it is given. It takes courage to objectively observe feelings and to accept your own imperfections, overcoming past experiences that may make you feel "less than" when criticized or fuel your self-criticism?
- Make sure your intention is to help, not to harm
- Step back, observe objectively and mindfully accept feelings so not be driven by them
- Commit to continuous improvement, recognizing that criticism is a means to that end.