Criticism is defined as, “a critical observation or remark, usually unfavorable.”  While criticism comes in many forms, most agree that receiving criticism is not an enjoyable experience.

Which of the following resonates best with you?:

  • I consider criticism NO MATTER WHERE it comes from.
  • I consider criticism depending on WHO it comes from.
  • I consider criticism depending on HOW it is delivered.
  • I consider criticism depending on WHAT it is related to.
  • I don’t take criticism well. PERIOD!
  • I have NEVER been criticized.

Some argue that “feedback” is preferable to criticism.  However, the primary difference between criticism and negative feedback is that the latter term is not as emotionally charged.  Consider this: “The report you turned in was poorly written and hard to follow.”   Is it feedback or criticism?  Either way, it probably stings a bit.

Despite not enjoying criticism, where would you be professionally without course corrections?   No matter what your profession, there are likely dozens of people who have provided valuable input on how you could improve.  You may not have liked the person or the delivery, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful.

What would change if you started looking at criticism as a gift?  The fact is, we often see ourselves very differently from the way others see us.   There isn’t one single perception that’s 100% accurate.  An example – when I was 16, I sang on stage in a large arts center as part of a state-wide competition.  My Dad thought I was the best singer there, I thought I was the worst, and the audience likely felt I was somewhere in between.

Being open to criticism isn’t about taking another’s opinion as fact or feeling badly about your performance.  It’s approaching life with an open mind and realizing that others experience the world (and us) differently.  It takes some ego strength to fully consider criticism, regardless of the source or delivery.  But, if you move past the emotional reaction and “try it on”, chances are you’ll learn something, whether you agree with the critique or not.

Criticism is a big part of character building.  It reveals where we’ve grown and our current hot buttons – limiting beliefs, old habits, a need to fit in or be liked – which may be holding us back.  It provides us with insights we wouldn’t otherwise have, and reminds us that we’re embracing life by putting ourselves out there.

While it’s easy to write off criticism, especially when the intent isn’t constructive or when it’s delivered poorly, if it elicits an emotional response, there is undoubtedly something in that feedback that’s a gift we can benefit from.

Over the next week when you are  are criticized, try these steps:

  1. Notice your emotional response. Are you feeling guilty? Angered? Shamed?
  2. Identify the trigger. Is it the person, the comment, or the topic?
  3. Seek to understand why this is a hot button.
  4. Make a plan to address it.

When criticism can be viewed as a gift, there is no longer a reason to fear it.  We are freed up to take risks, try new things, and be ourselves.  That is definitely a gift in my book.

“If you are bothered by every rub, how will you ever be polished?” – Rumi

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