24 August 2016

How to respond to criticism

It's very easy to become offended when someone criticises you. Here are some ideas on what is happening, what to do when it happens, and how to prevent it in future.

  • You might get angry, and raise your voice. Try to notice when this happens, and then just stop and think. Give yourself a moment to compose yourself and think about what is being said. There is absolutely no need to rush to respond to the person - just wait, sit down and have a think. Even take a break if you feel like it - but not storming off - just say you need a moment.
  • Some people do deliberately try and press your buttons, either to get you to admit your mistakes, see you go crazy for fun, or see what's under your skin. Don't let them.
  • It is in people's nature to complain rather than to praise. There is a good quote in Futurama - "When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all." Working in IT is a good example - when IT works fine, nobody says thanks, but when something's wrong, everyone complains.
  • Try to think about the root of the problem. It's very easy for an argument to start at one point, and then you end up arguing about the fundamental laws of nature.
  • It's very possible to have a jokey argument about nothing without it getting serious. If you realise it's heading in a serious direction then just pass it off, forget about it, and move onto something else like the football or that latest YouTube video you saw.
  • If you can, try to find a way to laugh it off. Humility is a high level, mature defence mechanism. I'd even give this a good read anyway so that perhaps you can know yourself a bit better.
  • If there are bells ringing in your head that you are wrong, rather than defend yourself, it's better just to come clean, be honest, and say something like:
    • Oh wait, no actually, you're right yes, sorry, I understand now, it didn't make sense before, sorry I was a bit confused
    • I was playing you on, I wasn't actually being serious! I was just winding you up
    • Sorry, I've been stressed lately
    • It was my bad, sorry
    • Yes, actually now you point it out, I did make a mistake there
    • Oh now, that's definitely wrong isn't it, I can see that now yes. I can fix that.
  • Self-awareness helps, but not to an overbearing degree. Understanding that you are human and you want to improve and be better is the greatest step. Being yourself is also important, as cliched as it sounds - what's key is that you only do what feels natural and right - don't feel you have to do what others want to do or be. Don't feel you have to fall in line with everyone else (unless it is life threatening of course). And don't let others define you.
  • Getting defensive is fairly normal, and you'll try raising points or even go so far as to create cognitive dissonance. A good example would be a politician for example - they often don't like to admit their wrongdoings, and will defend their decisions. But it's more human to be honest - say you messed up, and you will do better in future.
  • Stubbornness doesn't help - someone who is particularly stubborn, if told they are being stubborn, are likely to say "No, I'm not being stubborn!" which is a perfect example of being stubborn.
  • A lot of this probably arises from the "fear" of being proven wrong - no one likes being wrong - we always think we are right in every decision we make - at least at the time. But it is perfectly human to be wrong just as much as you are right. If we never learned from mistakes we would never make any progress.
  • Constructive criticism is a thing, which you should always be prepared for, but there is also witty banter and roasting which can be uncalled for, seem out of order, or are directly and personally offensive. If it's not clear to you that it's a joke, then it's understandably offensive.
  • Hypocrisy is common when it comes to criticism - people sometimes can be more than happy to criticise others, but never when it's aimed at them - those people should be redirected to this blog.
Some other self help articles may also help like these on Tiny Buddha, LinkedIn, and Lifehacker.