How to Make Any Criticism Constructive

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Criticism is hard to hear, because no one wants to hear that they’re doing something wrong. But criticism can be a gift, if you know what to look for. 

We often hear about “constructive criticism,” which is meant to help us improve (that’s why it’s constructive). But even well-meaning criticism can feel bad, because it makes us believe negative things about ourselves.

How to Break the Criticism Cycle

Criticism makes us feel bad because we believe that if we were doing things right, there wouldn’t be anything to criticize. Therefore, criticism means we did poorly, and we believe it’s a sign of our failure.

Criticism does not mean failure.

Every final version of something you see has gone through the process of critique and editing. Sometimes we self-edit and critique, and sometimes we ask others to do it for us, like a proofreader, a workshop group, or sending it to a friend and asking for their thoughts. Sometimes we receive criticism we didn’t ask for, and when criticism comes as a surprise we often feel defensive and hurt.

Each time we receive criticism, whether it’s asked for or not, we have an opportunity to learn from it and turn it into something constructive and helpful.

Taking Constructive Criticism

When faced with a criticism, get curious instead of defensive. Ask yourself some questions about it, like: 

  1. Is this criticism true?
  2. Is this criticism something I need to change to improve myself or my work?
  3. Can I use this experience to learn something?

Is it true?

Sometimes people will criticize you and it’s something you should change to be a better version of yourself. But other times, criticism may not actually be relevant. 

When criticism hits us hardest, it’s usually because we already believe a negative thought about ourselves about a similar thing. If I feel like someone is criticizing my writing, it hurts more if I already believe I’m not a good enough writer and they’re echoing that negative belief.

But ask yourself, really deeply ask, if the criticism is true.

And also ask if your interpretation of the criticism is true.

They said I’m a bad parent. Did they say that? Or did they point out to you that your car seat wasn’t installed properly? Is your car seat installed properly?

They said I’m not qualified as an expert on the subject I talk about. Did they say that? Or did they make a broad statement about your field that you took personally? Are you qualified?

They said I’m not good at my job. Did they say that? Or did you get feedback in a review on areas that need improvement? Do you need to improve those areas of your performance?

But if it’s criticism that can help you improve, here’s how to sift out the constructive bits.

Is this something I need to change?

Once you determine if something is true or not, the next step is deciding if it’s something you need to change.

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. If this is true, do you need to change it? Absolutely, yes. It’s a safety concern. Go fix your carseat.

They said I’m not qualified. Is this true? Make a list of the reasons you’re qualified to do your work and if you actually are qualified, move along and get back to work. If you determine that you really aren’t qualified for something, then make a plan to get what you need in order to feel confident in your qualifications.

I got a negative review at work. Is the criticism of your work performance true? If so, make a plan with your supervisor to check in on your improvements over the next several months so your next review is outstanding.

Can I learn something?

Whether or not a criticism is true, can you learn from the experience?

They said my carseat wasn’t installed properly. In this example, you learned about proper carseat installation. This is great information to have for the safety of your kids.

They said I’m not qualified. In this situation, you learned about all the things that do qualify you and add evidence to your list of reasons to feel confident when you’re facing imposter syndrome. In your research of additional qualifications, you might have also learned some easy ways to up your credentials to feel even more confident.

I got a negative review at work. In this example, it’s a great time to commit to learning new things at work to take your performance to the next level in your career. The things you improve and learn will be great for your resume too.

Being Vulnerable to Criticism

Criticism feels so uncomfortable because it makes us feel vulnerable. Putting yourself out there into the world as a writer or artist can feel extra vulnerable and intimidating simply because it means people will critique our work.

Someone left a comment on a review of my book that I’m capitalizing on millennials’ insecurities. 

This commenter is criticizing me – but is a book that targets millennials’ insecurities something I need to change? Actually, no. Because my book helps people overcome those insecurities. 

This criticism gave me some clarity. I do hope to attract millennials with insecurities to my book. Because my book is here to help them. 

However, I also received criticism that I didn’t push far enough on certain topics in my book, and this is relevant criticism that I would change next time. I was too timid and didn’t want to make waves with divisive opinions. I value this criticism and will address it in my next book, or a later version of Gaslighting. 

Is There Non-Constructive Criticism?

Absolutely. Sometimes, people’s criticism truly is just bullshit that’s about them.

People who criticize you for not being part of their religion, not living up to their standards or expectations, or not trusting you to make your own choices are people who are criticizing you to control you.

This is not constructive criticism, this is a boundary violation and manipulation tactic. You’re free to simply ignore them and take distance from people who criticize to hurt you.

PS. You can buy my book here!

 

Fear of Criticism Was Keeping Me from Working on My Goals

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Photo by Skyla Design on Unsplash

The phrase, “What people think of you is none of your business” was confusing when I first heard it as a kid. But I’ve since realized it means that people are going to have whatever opinions of you that they have, and you can’t stop them.

No matter what I do, I cannot control how people perceive me.

I spend a lot of energy making sure I don’t step on toes, upset people, or hurt people’s feelings. I want people to feel welcome and loved around me. In the past, this has been to my own detriment. I’d light myself on fire to keep someone else warm.

I make compassion a regular habit but I am also getting comfortable taking up some more space. My level of compassion has not changed, except that it now includes myself.

Perception is reality

Everything has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

I had a boss who used to say, “Perception is reality.” I prefer to think that perception is a filter.

Everything that every person does or says is perceived uniquely by everyone around them. Because everything that every person does or says has to filter through your own issues before you can process it.

An example: Age gaps in relationships. They make me extremely uncomfortable. My abuser was 40 when he met and groomed me to be his victim at 23. Age gaps of ten or more years make me feel sick to my stomach, but it doesn’t mean I think every couple with an age gap is experiencing an abuse dynamic. That’s my experience, my discomfort, my issue. And it’s my boundary to enforce if I don’t want to be around couples with a big age gap because it’s a trauma trigger.

It doesn’t mean I hate you. It doesn’t mean I have to get over it any faster for your benefit, either.

Another example: Weight loss. I can’t deal with people’s before and after photos because they send me back to the mental place I was in when I was deep in my eating disorder. Do I think everyone who has lost weight has an eating disorder? No. Do I think they’re fatphobic? Yes, actually, but that’s a post for another time.

I have unfollowed social media accounts that focus on weight loss or diet culture. It doesn’t mean I hate you.

Fear of criticism

She draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

It’s been almost two years since I left an abusive marriage, and I have met myself all over again. I’m discovering things I didn’t know I liked to do, because I never tried. I have a pretty active social life. I’m investing in professional services to make myself a better writer. I’m putting myself out there and promoting my work.

And it’s terrifying.

I have a professional coach whose favorite refrain is “What else?” I tell her how I’m feeling about something, she replies, “Okay, what else? What’s behind that? What’s the thought?”

Like the scene in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams forces Ethan Hawke into reciting a sudden poem, she draws things out of me that I’m too afraid to say without careful distillation into something palatable.

Last night I said to her, “I’m afraid if I get too big people will criticize me.”

So, it’s fear. I procrastinate, I hedge my bets, I don’t push far enough — because I am afraid to tip the scales in any one direction. I’m afraid to invite criticism.

In the same call, I laughed about a one star review someone left about my book. He hadn’t even read it and the review is nonsensical. I told her I wanted to frame it.

It’s so clear that the one star review is from someone who the book isn’t for. He’s not someone I am trying to reach.

A friend recently pointed out that there were some parts of my book where they thought I didn’t go far enough. I completely agree. I was over-concerned with being agreeable to every reader. A 2.0 version would have a lot of updates and would be bigger, longer, and a lot more divisive. It would invite criticism, but it would also invite more fervent support.

And that’s what I was missing.

I can’t stay quiet anymore

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer.

I keep bumping into the fact that I try to smooth my edges to appeal to the masses. I censor myself because I’m too afraid of someone disagreeing with me. In conflict with a loved one, I soften my own pain so it doesn’t upset them.

I don’t have to be palatable. I don’t have to be perfectly portioned. I don’t have to be mass produceable.

I need to be me so loudly that it turns the wrong people away and draws the right people closer. And it’s going to suck, at first.

I’ve already lost friends for reasons I don’t understand. I regularly invite feedback and am willing to sit in the discomfort of talking through an issue, so the fact that people who were once close friends have simply written me off is hurtful, but it’s honestly none of my business. If they wanted me to make something right, they’d invite me to do so.

Just like I don’t hate the people I’ve had to take distance from, they probably don’t hate me either. Their perception of me is getting filtered through what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. And that’s okay, even though it stings.

Like my one-star reviewer, some people aren’t going to be the people I’m here to reach. But by turning myself up to 11 and not trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll attract the people I’m actually here to connect with.

I’m not for everyone, and not everyone is excited for me to change and grow into this new version of myself.

And it’s honestly none of my business.

Ready to make a change in your own life?

I’m taking one on one coach clients this year and I have a few spots open in February. Send in a coach inquiry and we’ll decide the best way for us to work together on a ninety day goal!