Some tips on how to handle criticism with grace
Don't Take it Personally
As one of my thoughtful readers (herself a writer) wrote me last week “If you express yourself I don’t see that as a fail. You never know what you are presenting before the others’ eyes.”
True. Once you put the painting or photograph on the wall it has a life of its own. The viewer will create a brand-new work, influenced by the viewer's life and experiences.
Twenty people can look a the same thing and see twenty different things.
We know we need to hear others opinions; we need to be able to engage the outer world; that is the point of doing our work to connect and communicate.
We all want to imagine that the receivers of the work are going to be deeply moved, lifted out of their daily doldrums , or healed in some way.
In reality, the reaction may be anything but positive. If you’re going to do anything interesting, criticism is an unavoidable fact. What is one to do when we get comments back that are critical or even hurtful?
On the surface
When our work is criticized we tend to take it personally.
First, calm yourself down, take a few breaths. Consider the comments and try to objectively assess “Does this person have a point ?”
Though the criticism may sting , if there are valid points the criticism can help you to improve.
I remember being very frustrated with my teachers criticism, in graduate school. I had a long talk with myself. “Am I at the height of my creative abilities? Well, no... Do I think I have no room for improvement? Err, yes... Then listen to what they are saying and find a way to apply their advice!” I am happy to report things went better after I had that little chat.
If they have pointed out something that you can do to improve, recognize the truth that has been spoken, acknowledge the comments, thank them, and let them know that you are going to address the problem that they pointed out. Be grateful for good criticism. Speaking up is a generous action and takes courage.
You may be criticized because your work still needs some development or you’ve made some mistake. However, people may respond out of jealousy, or because they think they need to express opinions in order to feel important. Sometimes they feel challenged and react against that.
In trying to deal with hurtful comments it often helps me to recall that the person making these comments is doing the best they can in this situation. They might be trying to be helpful or they might be trying to be hurtful but in either case, the person is dealing with the world as best they can and you are part of the world they are dealing with.
If the person truly has nothing to offer, or they are being combative, I suggest saying “You may be right,” add “Thank you“ and move on.
Under the skin
OK, what happens when someone says or writes something that stings. It gets under your skin and you can not shake it loose?
We know we have to stop reacting to that “insulting so and so” or we will never move on and do anything productive. All our energy is being used arguing our case, defending our selves.
Here are some suggestions:
I developed a method years ago when I was in an annoying environment and I couldn’t leave [a job]. I would ask myself; if I could quit tomorrow would this situation bother me two weeks from now? If the answer was still yes I would imagine myself a month down the road and reflect on the situation. When I imagined myself far enough into a future where I was no longer upset. I would then move back in time imagining myself closer and closer to the present time, noticing now that I did not have the strong emotional tie to the situation. Once I could be back at me desk, in present time, my mind could see clearly and be free. I would find that the situation really did not matter to me, unless I allowed it too.
If I removed the energy, if I stopped defending my wounded pride, the slight or insult or humiliation, whatever it was, no longer had power.
Years later, I listened to a lecture on the “The Sedona Method” and they provide a similar process that may assist you to choose to release negativity.
(The following is my summary I recommend further exploration, available at http://www.sedona.com/howItWorks.asp)
- Focus on what you want to feel better about, picture yourself reacting to whatever it is. Don’t ask why it happened, just feel your hurt, your resentment, your anger.
- Now ask yourself “Can I see myself, now or in the future, release these negative feelings?” The answer may be no. If the answer is “No” continue to the next step.If the answer is “Yes”, skip to step 4.
- Ask yourself “Am I willing to release this?” or “Would I if I could?” It does not matter in the least if you are right or justified. The purpose of this exercise is to get yourself free. If you are still saying “No” ask yourself: “Would I rather continue to feel this way? or Would I rather be free?”
- Now ask “When?” At this point you will release (to the extent you are capable) these negative feelings you choose to be rid of.
- Repeat these steps until you are free of that hurt, anger or resentment.
The most powerful tool, for those of you who practice meditation or Centering Prayer, is to sit with the intention of letting this go. As you sit in meditation and the thoughts with the emotional charge come up, just return your focus to your center, do not engage with those thoughts. When your period of silence is over you will be able to remember the incident with no emotional charge at all.
Obviously, I have had a lot of practice...
What are some of your methods for dealing with hurtful comments?