How to Handle Negative Criticism

Photo Tree in green rain by Rune SpaansMy Tuesday must be having an identity crisis and thinks it’s a Monday because today is every bit as busy as yesterday. Whew! There’s more work on my schedule than hours in the day but no complaints here — mama needs to get the car into a mechanic, call the plumber and visit the dentist. But in between meetings, all of which ran over their allotted time, I realized the level of negative criticism that surrounds me – both internal and external – is a huge roadblock in my journey.

To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.

My Inner Critic is mentioned a time or two on this blog, and I really am doing better at keeping him quiet, for the most part. Duct tape helps. For some reason though the external negative criticism has increased to fill the void left by the internal. What the cuss? Now, I most certainly cannot control what others say or write about me. But the way I allow my brain (and, let’s be honest here, my heart) to process that external negative criticism is within my control.

So, how do I handle negative criticism and the Negative Nelly who gives it?

First, I remind myself to stay calm. Human nature and socialization have conditioned me to react rather than respond. Therefore, I make sure to listen carefully to the words being used. Without interrupting, I allow them to finish their critique.

Second, I ask for clarification on the message I received. Communication is complex and involves different components, many of which are subjective. Making sure what I heard is what they actually said can be tricky but it’s vital to clear communication.

Third, I evaluate the message’s validity. Does what this person said have merit? Do they speak the truth with factual evidence? Or are they merely ranting and only present a critique based in emotions? True self-awareness is a required tool for this evaluation.

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.

Fourth, after I’ve evaluated their message, I respond based on logic and not emotion. In other words, just the facts ma’am. However, if they are using negative criticism to put me down, make me feel bad or any other type of emotional hijack*, my response is, “I don’t agree with how you’re speaking to me and I don’t deserve it.”

Finally, I listen as they [hopefully] respond [versus react] and work toward a resolution with which we are both satisfied, if possible. Most times a Negative Nelly just wants to bring me down to Miseryville with them and could care less about giving constructive criticism or feedback. In those instances, a resolution may not be do-able.

*End Note: Many experts believe all forms of negative criticism are in fact verbal abuse and should not be tolerated, whether it’s a business relationship or a personal one. If you feel you’re being verbally abused, simply respond along the lines of, “Yikes! I don’t care to hear that kind of talk.” Or, “Stop! Don’t talk to me like that.” Most abusers (read chronic criticizers) don’t realize what they’re doing is abuse.

For more information on verbal abuse, read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans or visit the web site.

How do you handle negative criticism? Since it’s still November, and my last two posts are about gratitude, are you thankful for negative criticism?

Remember, I’m not referring to constructive criticism or feedback, which is given in an effort to help another person improve or grow.

Photo credit: Rune Spaans

8 Replies to “How to Handle Negative Criticism

  1. Thankful for negative criticism? That’s a tough one. Wouldn’t maybe use the word thankful, but I’ve been learning this month, while dealing with someone who is sometimes nasty to me( because this person feels they know me well enough that anything negative they might say to me will simply flow like water off my back) I’m learning something about this particular person. I’m learning that her negative comments say more about her, and the kind of person she is, than me. I might add I do think many of her comments are said one moment and forgotten, by her, the next. Every person in our life is there to teach us something whether we want to accept that or not.

    1. And the sooner we can accept that and see every person in our life in that light, the sooner we can really grow! I totally agree, Laura.

      It’s interesting you mentioned dealing with someone like her. In the book I finished last week on verbal abuse, the author mentioned more than once that these types of comments are indeed forms of verbal abuse. The book discusses Power Over versus Personal Power, and whenever someone gives negative criticism they are attempting to assert their Power Over you by wanting you to feel bad, feel less than, question yourself, etc. while at the same time making themselves feel good, feel more than, etc. And exactly like you wrote, it’s about that person, not you. It was a thought-provoking read to say the least.

      The bottom line (for me) is: Choose your words wisely and consider why you are going to say something before you speak – kinda ties into respond versus react. Sometimes easier said than done, I know.

  2. Respond vs React – oh, that’s a big one! There are so many different issues that feed into it. The one I see a lot is one you mentioned: some people are so conditioned to react negatively and forcefully that it is a habit they don’t realize they have. Unfortunately, a lot of children are learning it from the cradle and don’t see anything wrong or damaging about it.

    1. How did I miss your comment, E? Geesh, sorry about that.

      When it comes to kids nowadays I don’t ever look at them and think, “Man, what a spoiled brat!” or “Good gawd, what a bad kid.”

      Nope, I think, “Man, those parents must be hell to live with” because kids ALWAYS imitate their parents. They follow by example more than by what they’re taught (aka told to do).

      That’s how I’ve grown the most over the last 12 years — when I saw my daughter doing or saying something I didn’t agree with, I would ask myself, “Is that something she’s learned from me? Is that something I’m doing?”

      If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.

  3. In the world of writing, criticism is so essential to growth that it’s hard to draw a line between what’s necessary and what’s abusive. For instance, I’m grateful for:

    “I started to read your piece and had to put it down half way through because you used “she” in place of an actual name 172 times in the last 5 pages!”

    Yeah, it sounds rude. It could definitely be phrased better, but deep down I’m thinking:

    “I’m so glad I didn’t send this out yet…”

    1. I completely agree that the line between constructive and negative criticism is sometimes blurry.

      However, I wouldn’t have interpreted that reader’s feedback as negative, or even rude. It stated a fact. And facts are void of emotion, a key piece to negative criticism.

      It takes an experienced eye and/or ear and self-awareness to pick up on negative criticism – and verbal abuse – because we’ve all been trained into accepting the behavior our whole lives and it’s reinforced by those around us (family, co-workers, society in general) on a daily basis.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback, A.M.!

  4. Hey! This is my first visit to your blog. We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in the same niche. You have done a marvelous job!

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