Being the Better Person – Accepting Criticism

Article By Dee DeWitt


How do you deal with criticism?  I think the first reaction for most of us is to defend ourselves, or worse yet to lash back.


Yet, while criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralizing, it can also be viewed in a positive way: it is honesty, and it can spur us to do better … to improve.


The following suggestions are areas I am working on in my life.  I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to accepting criticism, and I have the same impulse as everyone … to knee-jerk a reaction.  Nevertheless, this is what I strive for:


First ReactionsIf your first reaction is to lash back at the person giving the criticism, or to become defensive, take a moment.  Try not to react initially.  Take a deep breath, and give it a little thought.


I tend to get a little angry when I’m criticized (really!), and my impulse is to fire back.  But I am trying to teach myself not to react immediately. For example, if I get a critical email, I will wait before replying. It’s harder when you are face to face with the person, but try.  A cooling off time allows you to give it a little more thought beyond an initial reaction. It allows logic to step in, past a negative emotion. And here is a warning … it is easy to step back and still simmer … mad at the person who criticized you … using the extra time to develop an angry response.  Don’t.  It hurts you and it hurts the other person.  Use the time to be calmer and to look at the criticism honestly.


Make a Positive from NegativesOne of the keys to anyone’s success is finding positive things in what most people see as a negative. Sickness forces me to stop my exercise program? That’s a welcome rest. You get the idea.  It’s the same with criticism … try to find a positive in it.


Some criticism may be insensitive and even hurtful, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of truth.  Try to find that nugget and use it as honest feedback and a means to improve.  Improvement is a good thing.


Show AppreciationEven if someone is harsh in their criticism or you question their motives, you can still acknowledge them.


They might just a negative person in general, or something happened in their life, or they are having a bad day.  Nevertheless, you don’t need to let their attitude cause you to be the same way.  Instead of mirroring them, if you acknowledge them – and even thank them for the feedback – your attitude of gratitude will probably catch them off-guard. (But be sure to mean it!  An insincere thank you – and the tone of voice that accompanies it – will only be taken as hurtful)


Sometimes you may win them over with this strategy based on a simple thank you.  Yet even if the critic doesn’t take your positive response in a good way, it’s still good karma for you.  


LearnWhen you have acknowledged the critic, don’t just move on.  See if there is an opening for improvement.  It’s hard for many people (including myself).  We many times think that we’re right no matter what.  But no one is always right.  The critic may be right, or there may be some truth in between.


See if there’s something you can change to make yourself better … and then make that change … Strive to do better.  It doesn’t mean capitulating to the critic all the time … it simply means looking at the information and trying to be a better person.


Being the Better Person – Often we take criticism as a personal attack.  Perhaps sometimes it is.  But the important thing is that we don’t have to take it that way.


Try viewing it as a criticism of your actions, not your person … even if it is a personal attack.  If you do that, you can detach yourself emotionally from the criticism.


Unfortunately, the way that many of us handle the criticisms that we view as personal attacks is by attacking back.  Especially if this criticism is made in public.  You have to defend yourself, and attack the attacker … right?  Wrong.  Don’t lower yourself to the attacker’s level.  Instead, be the better person. 


If you can reply in a calm and positive manner to the key point of the criticism, you will be the better person. And others will see that and think better of you for rising above the attack … especially if you remain positive and actually take the criticism well.   You will also feel better about yourself. If we can stay above that level, we feel good about who we are … and that’s the most important benefit of all.


So remove yourself from the criticism, and look only at the actions that are being criticized. Try to look for the positive in the criticism, and try to improve.  Acknowledge the critic, and respond with a positive attitude.  In doing so, you will remain the better person and feel good about yourself.


“All of us could take a lesson from the weather.  It pays no attention to criticism.”


“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
-Norman Vincent Peale


“Complaining about something without taking any action to correct it is irresponsible. If a condition deserves criticism, it deserves an honest attempt to change it.”
-John Renesch


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Posted on 26 June, 2009 in Balance, Goals, Making the Day Count
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