A few days ago, I was told by a friend that I “don’t take criticism very well.”
“WTF?” retorted I indignantly. “Are you kidding me?”
My blood pressure rose significantly, as did my voice. “Who me … not take criticism well?” And then one last stab: “Are you fucking crazy?”
Okay, the truth is none of that happened. Except for the criticism that I don’t take criticism very well. That happened.
And fair enough. It might well be true. Because really, when you think about it, who does take criticism well?
No one I know, that’s who. Because when it comes to being told what we are not getting right, or doing well enough or downright failing at, nobody likes to be on the receiving end of negative judgment. And most of us do not respond positively to it.
Can you imagine –
“Hey Barbie, that shirt looks adorbs on you but whoa … did you style your hair in the ceiling fan tonight?” At which time Barbie obviously responds “Well golly, aren’t you the sweetest?!”
I don’t think so.
Or how about – Boss: “Your work ethic totally sucks, young lady, and if you don’t pull up your socks you will find yourself out of a job faster than you can say You’re fired!” At which time terrified employee responds “So grateful that you told me this, sir, and yes I promise, no more droopy socks.”
Again. I don’t think so. Not in the real world. Because in the real world most of us, when criticized, respond in one of three ways:
Silence. Usually of the stunned variety.
Defense. We try with all our might to explain exactly why we did/wore/thought/wrote. We do this until we are blue in the face
Offense. Because so very often when we are told we did something wrong our immediate response is to remind the accuser of ALL the things he or she has done wrong. Ever. You know, since the beginning of time.
This is how most people usually respond.
The problem is none of these responses is typically very effective.
Silence equals agreement. Acceptance. Acquiescence. Unless of course your silence is coupled with a passive-aggressive response such as unfriending on Facebook, blocking on Instagram or unfollowing on Twitter. Then it becomes silent bullshit. And I already wrote that blog.
Defense is fine if you are calm and eloquent and even a little witty. Like, say, Accuser says “Hey Vic, you’ve gotten a bit chubby” and I blithely retort “Well, darling, I still have time to lose weight but you will always be stupid.”
Oh wait. That is defense followed by offense. Also not a very good idea.
Seriously, defense is okay IF you excel at public speaking or creative writing and IF your accuser is willing to listen and absorb. Perhaps alter their opinion. Sadly we’re not all literary superstars nor are most people adept at changing their minds. It’s an ego thing. We blurt out something willy-nilly and then stand by it as if it was written by an angel in the first testament.
So how then do we learn to accept negative evaluation with grace? With consideration? With, dare I say, an open mind?
The answers are: Who. How. Why.
We remain silent – at least for a moment – and conduct a little inner survey.
WHO is leveling that critique? If it’s your boss you better damn well sit up and listen and then get on with pulling up those socks. That is, of course, if you want the job. But yeah, your boss is kinda important. So is your partner, your best friend, your parent or even your kid. If the critic is someone whose opinion you value then yes, please, take a time-out and calmly consider their appraisal. Do this before you have the tantrum. Take a deep breath (or 20) and think about the person, their relationship to you and then …
HOW. How did this person give you the blessed news? Was it blurted out in hostile fashion, with perhaps some motive ulterior to the actual words? Was it offered calmly to help you gain perspective or improvement? Was it carefully thought out and lovingly delivered NOT to smack you upside the head but to give you something vital and important to ponder? And that’s the big thing, isn’t it? Because if your evaluator isn’t actually helping you (you know – constructive criticism) but is instead merely sounding off, we are led to the WHY.
WHY is this person overcome with the need to make you feel bad. And let’s be brutally honest here, okay – criticism always makes us feel bad. At least initially. But now that you have assessed the WHO and the HOW, the WHY becomes the final piece in the puzzle. Was the analysis delivered as an honest attempt to help you see a light and become your best self or as a selfish ruse designed only to make the accuser feel better? That, my friends, is the big fat HUGE question.
Every time I write a blog I open myself up to criticism. From people I know, people I love and virtual strangers. Every time there is a song written, a new book published, a political cartoon posted, a dress designed, a meal created or a landscape painted, the creator of that whatever opens themselves to evaluation. And I will tell you from personal experience that takes a certain kind of resolve. Metal. Balls of steal. Call it what you will.
There are many people on this planet who never open themselves up to that kind of scrutiny. Because it is terrifying and painful.
For those of us who do I offer only two bits of advice:
Stay true to your vision. Whatever it is. Own it. Embrace it. Be open to new perspectives and receive praise and damnation with equal aplomb. But DO NOT be terrified.
Say thank you.
I’ve decided that will be my new “catch-all” response to those who choose to judge.
Thank you for weighing in, thank you for offering your opinion, thank you for taking the time to let me know what you believe I am not excelling at and thank you for caring enough to include me in your busy day.
I’m also going to think long and hard before I criticize anyone about anything. Especially the people I love. It’s going to be tough but I am going to try. And when I am on the receiving end I will pause, breathe, breathe some more and then be grateful. It’s an art, this grace-full receiving, this I know. And as we know, art is always open to criticism. But I am just a little smarter than I was yesterday, a little thicker-skinned and a little more optimistic. So it’s all okay.
Oh by the way … thank you.