Why criticism is a good thing


Last night I received some criticism. It felt unwelcome and uncomfortable. After spending time running through the comments in my mind and working myself into somewhat of a frenzy, I realized that I had challenged the criticism without evaluating the validity of the comments. It dawned on me that there might be a better way of handling it.

Criticism used to terrify me. And because it terrified me, I didn't know how to respond to it. I hated feeling that I was letting someone down. I became irrationally upset at the idea I was misunderstood. Because criticism more often seemed like a thinly veiled insult than anything constructive, I felt vulnerable and weak. It's no wonder most people become defensive when they face criticism.

Whenever the word "criticism" is mentioned, it seems to invoke a negative response. Criticism can make a person angry and nervous. We all want to feel good about ourselves, and when someone judges us negatively any doubts we might have internalized come to the surface. Most of us already have pretty substantial fears about our self-worth, so it doesn't take much to turn those doubts into a serious blow to the ego. Why some people react stronger to criticism than others is a matter of debate. Whether a person was criticized incessantly when they were growing up, or repeatedly criticized by someone they admired and trusted, criticism appears to constitute a very real threat.

Understanding what criticism is might be the first step in facing it in a  reasonable way.  The word criticism comes from the Greek word kritikos, which means to judge for the sake of improvement. There are two kinds of criticism: constructive criticism, which is intended to help us improve and keep communication open, and destructive criticism, which is used to humiliate and control. (For the sake of this post, I'm going to focus on constructive criticism.) By nature, criticism is a positive thing. "Criticism is information that will help you grow", states psychologist Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D. If we can take the emotional response out of a critical comment and view it objectively, the benefits would be hard to ignore. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done. When someone is judging your work, appearance, relationships or taste in music, it can be tough to remain objective.

With the popularity of social media, we are all vulnerable to criticism at any point during the day. Whether a Twitter friend comments on your position concerning age-appropriate fashion, or a message board follower questions the focus of your blog (which is what happened to me yesterday), it's more important than ever to regard criticism as a positive tool rather than a menacing blow. Criticism is not inherently bad, and more often than not, can lead to some pretty amazing growth.

So how can we learn to accept criticism? Here are some tips:
  • Take a deep breath. Count to ten if it's necessary. Give your body some time to slow down so you can react intellectually and not emotionally.
  • Evaluate the source of the criticism. Is the criticizer dumping on you out of a spirit of hostility? Are they posting out of a sense of spite or anger? If so, it's smart to disregard the attack.
  • Act, don't react. Criticism is a form of communication. If someone has constructive criticism they want to give you, most of the time they just want to offer feedback on what you're doing. Case in point: When I started blogging, a reader informed me that my posts didn't have enough personality. From this I heard that I needed to get more personal in my posts and show readers who I really am. She was right.
  • Drop the negative outlook. Criticism sent through the internet feels meaner and more cruel, because it is more permanent than verbal communication (thanks to my friend Carrie for the advice!) But don't immediately take all criticism as negative. Most of the time, criticism is subjective - what it means is simply how you look at it.
  • Learn from the criticism. More often than not, criticism illustrates something about yourself that you weren't aware of.  It reveals your blind spot - something other people might see, but you don't. This can be an excellent opportunity to take a step back and evaluate whether there's something that could use improvement.
You can’t control others; you can only control yourself. That means you have a choice in your response to criticism: you can ignore the criticism, use it as a motivator, or become upset and angry. How you approach criticism is up to you.
 


8 comments:

  1. Elissa, This is a great post. Criticism can be a very good thing, and is a necessary part of growing and improving. Like you pointed out, criticism on the internet can seem harsh because we don't have the ability to hear someone's tone or see their facial expressions. Part of growing an improving is learning how to take criticism properly.

    I also think learning how to give criticism in a way that will be well received is important to master. When I was a teacher and had to edit many papers, I would always lead with a positive comment before making any comments on what needed to be improved. If one can learn how to critique someone kindly, it is easier for the receiver to swallow.

    On another note, it was fantastic to meet you last weekend! Thanks for keeping us company and helping with our tagging.

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  2. Yet another fab post! Haven't gotten much criticism on my blog yet, but I've dealt with criticism in other parts of life. It definitely depends on who dished out the critique on how well I take it.

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  3. Bloggers are brave people and bloggers are easy targets.

    I just stumbled upon your blog today while searching to see if any of the bloggers that attended the Vintage Glamporium event had posted photos to their blogs.

    I kind of like your blog so far and I am going to do what I always do when I find a blog that I like. I am going to backtrack from your first post to your current post to see how your blog has changed over time.

    I say, keep doing what you're doing if what you're doing is working to help you achieve your blog goals. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, regardless of how helpful the constructive criticism given was. Do what works, while it's working. If it ain't working, fix it.

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  4. Great advice! I am just learning how to take criticism in stride... and to actually grow from it!

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  5. This is really good advice! People can get supersensitive especially when it comes to their work. One thing I try to keep in mind is that when someone is giving a critique they are critiquing my work and not me as a person.

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  6. Good stuff! I have so much to learn, so far to go.....yet I've come so far. You are sooo helpful! Thank you!

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  7. And yet another excellent post as penned by you. Lady you are hitting them out of the ball park.

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  8. it really depends on how you deal with it and sometimes the way people critics us. If its way too rude, it is better to just ignore it.

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