How well do you respond to criticism? Initially, the sting of criticism hits us deep where our sense of self worth lives. However, when looked at after the initial shock, pain or disappointment, criticism can often be the base for significant growth.

Like any basic communication, criticism involves a source, a message and a receiver. When others aim the criticism at us, we are the receivers. When we criticize others, we are the source. The criticism is the message.

When receiving criticism, first consider the source. A quote I wrote to remind myself of this is: “Have no more confidence in the judgment than you do in the judge.” If the source is someone you respect, consider their criticism seriously. Even ask questions of the respected source. And certainly thank them if they indeed helped you discover a personal weakness or flaw.

If the source is someone you have no regard for, be skeptical of the criticism. Do look at it, for any kernel of truth. Question their motivation in criticizing you. Do they want to disrupt, discourage, or purposefully hurt you? Do they have a vested interest or something to gain? Do not allow them to affect your sense of self without basis. We can grow from the indiscreet barbs directed our way by the uncaring. It takes self-confidence and self-awareness to sift through the worthless to find the gem that can help us. Don’t spend too much time over-analyzing criticism unless you quickly sense there is merit in it.

Finally, after considering the source and analyzing the message, look inside. How did you react to the criticism initially? Did you overreact? Did you reject or deny the criticism without first considering it? Did you consider the criticism a second time, after any emotions you felt had dissipated? Was there any validity to the criticism? Was it accurate? Did you actually deserve it? Look at it objectively. If it had merit, what is your plan to correct the defect exposed by the criticism? Do you actually plan to do anything about it? Or, do you like yourself as you are, though you know the criticism showed you an area for personal improvement.

We should all keep continuous self-improvement as a goal that deserves our regular, serious attention and action when required.

Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.


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