Five thoughts on dealing with criticism

How we become braver by learning to react to personal attacs

When faced with unfair and judgemental criticism or personal attacks, I know I shouldn`t “take it personally”. Yet, I often don`t know how to do it. So, I often let offense drain a lot of my energy – really, I feel then like just having played Wimbledon (and lost) by the end of the day. Do you know that feeling? I`ve researched some ideas about criticism, that might help us deal with it better. Because when we get better at dealing with criticism not only will we preserve our energy, but we won`t dread offense so much and won`t let it hold us back from becoming braver as a professional and as a person.

1. It`s more about the criticizer

First of all, what does “Don`t take it personally” even mean? It often has nothing to do with us as a person, when being criticized, but in fact with the person who is criticizing. “Hurting people hurt people”, says Christian author Joyce Meyer. Equally one could say: People who feel attacked (maybe they feel attacked by time pressure and stress for example) attack others. Understanding this doesn`t make the attack less mean but we are likely to not feel so angry about it knowing why the person offended us. So, I think it`s helpful to calmly analyze the situation that we have been criticized about. This way we may see why the other person has said what she or he has said.

2. Talk but don`t rant

When dealing with unfair criticism, it may be helpful to talk to a friend or coach who doesn`t judge. It doesn`t help though if we start to rant against the person who criticized us – we will only become more upset. 

While talking about the situation might realize that the criticism was justified or partly justified, maybe it was only poorly delivered. Then we get the opportunity to work on ourselves. Justified criticism can be the best thing to happen to us! The person who criticized us is doing us the biggest favour by revealing what we could work on.

Our friend or coach can also remind us that we have a lot of successes and achievements, too – regardless of what was criticized. That helps us to stay positive and motivated. 

3. Take note of achievements

Talking about achievements: It`s helpful to really take notice of achievements as they happen. So that we can remember them in these kinds of situations. We tend to acknowledge our successes not even half as much as we take notice of criticism. So, taking a picture of successful moments (big or small) or just writing a note in our planner would be a useful habit.

4. Find the "right words" (later is fine, too)

Another thing I frequently struggle with is finding the “right words” in the moment of attack. It`s typically only afterwards that I come up with the phrases that I wished I had said. However, it helps to nevertheless say those phrases out loud afterwards – just for ourselves then. Because having practised, we will eventually find an appropriate peaceful response in a “real” situation, one that also honours what we think.

5. First aid

Last but not least: a good first aid after having been attacked is to be a good friend to ourselves. This means that we don`t hurry on with the day but slow down a bit and maybe sip a coffee or tea, slip into soft clothes, pray and allow for a little downtime. Of course, it would be brilliant to be a superwoman or superman with the perfect mindset who never gets upset and just moves on with her or his day. But hey, then again, taking things to heart also means that we have a heart, no?

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