Life without criticism is not life, especially when you are trying to develop and improve yourself. In fact, criticism is one of the biggest factors pushing us to change. The only problem with it is that often we are attacked with criticism when we do not need it. At other times, criticism is nothing more than a “diss” aimed to hurt us. This is called destructive criticism. As a result, we want to defend ourselves whenever we are criticized, even when real constructive criticism is offered.
So why is constructive criticism so important to us?
The first thing that we need to do is to understand the difference between typical criticism, constructive criticism and even destructive criticism.
Into the category of typical criticism, we can put moments such as when our colleagues tell us that we are doing our work incorrectly. With destructive criticism, it may be random people on the internet saying very rude things to us.
While typical criticism can sometimes be useful, it really doesn’t tell us much. All that it does is leave us feeling anxious or stressed out. Occasionally it might push us to do something differently. Destructive criticism, on the other hand, is aimed solely at making us feel bad about ourselves. These days it has become too easy for the so-called “internet experts” to hide behind their keyboards and criticize others for completely ridiculous things, such as a sweater that someone is wearing or for the type of lipstick that a girl has used. It’s mean, unnecessary and most of the time not true.
Other than not caring, there really is no politically correct way to handle mockery. Typical non-constructive criticism also doesn’t deserve much attention. People say many things without actually putting too much thought into it, especially when they are having a bad day. And if they don’t give us any kind of advice for improvement, there really isn’t much we can learn from it, right?
But we also have real constructive criticism. Constructive criticism, despite sometimes causing us a lot of discomfort, can carry an immense amount of value to us. Not only people tell us what we can improve, but their constructive criticism helps us understand how we can improve. We are told where exactly we need improvement and what we can do to achieve it.
Constructive criticism, if given correctly, has the capacity to push us into the right direction and to make us better. It’s not a secret that when we try to analyze ourselves, we are too subjective about it and fail to see things for what they really are.
Finally, constructive criticism is valuable because it’s rare. Not all of our friends or relatives are able to tell us the truth as it is. Therefore, instead of avoiding being criticized, it is in our own interest to receive as much of it as possible.
Receiving constructive criticism honorably
With constructive criticism, there are, unfortunately, two problems: giving and receiving it.
The first problem that worries most of us is how to handle constructive criticism. While we are aware that it is valuable to us and the person giving it is not interested in hurting us, we subconsciously try to avoid it as much as we can. No one wants to get told that they are wrong or that they should do things differently. No one.
It really does feel natural to dislike criticism. The only problem is that if we hate it so much, we won’t be able to benefit from it. Therefore, our goal is to learn to take constructive criticism into account and to also benefit from it.
As I have previously stated in the article about experiencing worry and anxiety, if you are not able to act in a certain way because human instinct is preventing you from it, the best thing to do is to rationalize your problem. What I mean by this is that if you can clearly comprehend all of the benefits of constructive criticism, it will be easier to overcome yourself. In other words, you may not like being criticized, but because you understand its benefits, you will ask for it anyway.
1. Never take constructive criticism personally
In order to gain the most benefit, never take constructive criticism personally. Constructive criticism, unlike destructive criticism, is actually given to help you. Often we get criticized in places like school or work, where others are actually getting paid to criticize and challenge you. Therefore, learn to distance yourself from your emotions when necessary. Emotions often confuse us and hide the objective reality. We, in this case, need to be as objective as possible.
Try to focus only on what is being said, instead of focusing on your reaction towards what is being said to you.
2. It’s given to help you
As mentioned before, constructive criticism is given to help you. The person giving it to you may be pointing out the exact things that need more attention and improvement. Instead of closing away from it, you should embrace it with all your heart. When else are you going to receive so much useful advice?
3. Nobody is perfect
One thing to keep in mind when receiving constructive criticism is to understand that we are not perfect. Me, you and everyone else has flaws and things that they can improve on. Don’t look at the person that is giving you the criticism as someone that is trying to teach you how to live your life in every aspect. Instead, see it for what it really is – help in something particular.
When you do receive constructive criticism, don’t go straight into trying to prove the other person wrong. Remember, it is in our human nature to push criticism away. So don’t make any unjustified moves. Spend some time analyzing the things told. You may even need some time to calm down, because when you do, your mind is more clear and you are able to think rationally.
Remember, constructive criticism is usually well thought out by the person giving it. It is not there to hurt you, but to benefit you. To be honest, it doesn’t even matter what the other person thinks when criticizing us. The point is that you know that it will help you and make you better.
Giving constructive criticism
Because of its tough nature, receiving constructive criticism is a lot more memorable than giving it. In fact, giving it is so easy that we may not even be aware of the suffering that we are inflicting upon someone else. Not everyone has read this article like you have, and not everyone knows how to handle criticism 🙂 Instead, when you try to help others, they may simply not “hear you”, and in worst case, they may take it very personally, which will damage your relationship with them.
Therefore, in order to make sure that our comments are being heard the right way, there are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Make sure your criticism is valid and wanted
Before you go on telling other people what they can do better, make sure your criticism is valid. In other words, make sure that what you are saying will help that person. Also, try to give constructive criticism only to those that you think will be able to handle it. If you know that the person is not willing to listen to you or to see you as an authority in the given problem, don’t bother trying to help them. I’ve personally done this mistake many times, unfortunately, and it has always worsened my relationship with that person afterwards. I mean you can always try, but I would be very careful here.
But it’s a whole different story when a person has actually asked you to give them feedback.
2. Provide positive feedback too
Receiving criticism is very important, but as you already know, not everyone can handle it. Therefore, adding positive feedback can really smoothen things. For example, you can always start with something that a person does well, such as “I loved how you used these colors to make this image, however, you can try also…” Here you can add whatever you want, and the person will be able to hear you a lot better, as opposed to you just instantly spitting out the naked truth to them.
Also, if you really want to stay on the safe side, you can finish your criticism with another positive comment. However, keep in mind that ending on a happy note may make your criticism less important to the one receiving it.
3. Put emphasis on the problem, not the person
Sometimes when people are getting criticized, they may feel like they are being attacked. In order to avoid this, try taking the person out of the equation. Don’t say that he or she was wrong because of bla bla. Instead, say something about how the situation is usually dealt with. So, instead of saying “you are rushing too fast, which is why you are making these mistakes”, say something like “we usually try to spend at least 20 minutes per task in order to avoid making mistakes similar to these”. Or instead of “you are a crazy driver”, you can say something along the lines of “please try to pay more attention to the pedestrians or the traffic lights”. Here you are immediately telling what could be done better, and you are not directly criticizing the other person.
Please also note that in the examples above we are trying to be as precise as possible with our constructive criticism. If we are not exact and precise with what we want the other person to improve in (i.e. you are a crazy driver), we can never be sure that we will be understood correctly. Who knows what we mean when we say a “crazy driver”. Maybe we meant watching the speed limitations, traffic signs or even the way in which the car is handled. Who knows?
4. Leave your emotions out of it
Just like with receiving constructive criticism, when you are giving it, try to be as objective as possible and leave your emotions out of it. If you do feel frustrated with the person, don’t allow it to be visible. Try to say only those things that you know will be of help, and avoid saying those that cannot be changed.
And if you are going to criticize something that cannot be changed, make sure that you are not attacking the person. Shouting “why would you do that?!” is not the right way to go. Instead, say something like “next time when you are in a similar situation, make sure you do this instead”.
Finally, if you weren’t asked to do so, don’t point out at things that are clearly subjective. Avoid saying that a color of a dress was wrong because you think so. This can be very subjective on certain occasions and may not be necessarily wrong. This kind of criticism isn’t really constructive and will lead to arguments.
All in all, there are a lot of things to think about when giving or receiving constructive criticism. However, keep in mind that common sense is key here. Leave out your emotions and leave out direct attacks. Focus only on the problem and being as friendly as possible. This way you will make sure that nobody is going to be offended and that the person will actually get your point.
Keep in mind that no matter how politically correct you are, there will always be overly sensitive people that are not used to receiving constructive criticism. If you know that this is the case, it is best to avoid criticizing altogether. But if you really have to, be prepared that you may not be taken well. Similarly, there will always be people that feel that they need to criticize you, no matter how well you do something. They may be referred to as toxic people. In this case, the best thing that you can do is learn to not care. Either way, not always things in this world go as smoothly as we want them to, right?
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