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How to use criticism to your advantage

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Criticism is the expression of dissatisfaction or disapproval of something or someone on the basis of supposed mistakes or faults (dictionary.com). Humans are wired to be defensive towards criticism. I don’t know of anyone who likes to be criticized and even with our best efforts, even if not externally or noticeably, we usually respond negatively to it. Also, it is usually better to give criticism than to receive it. Criticism rivals connection and intimacy in any relationship, and as such, we sometimes realize that we have to find it in us to fight the feeling to lash out at the person who is making the comments.

Constructive and destructive criticism

The types of criticism that you can receive are constructive or destructive. The difference between the two is the way each is delivered. Both forms challenge your ability, character, and ideas, but when destructive criticism is received, your pride can be hurt and your confidence and self-esteem can be negatively affected. The person delivering the destructive type could be just thoughtless; he or she is not aware of the effects of the comments, but it also can come from someone who is deliberately being hurtful and malicious. In some cases, aggression and/or anger is the result of destructive criticism.

In contrast, constructive criticism is generally used to point out mistakes in a bid to show how and where there can be improvements. This type of criticism is used as necessary feedback to allow you to make improvements in a particular area, and not as a means to put you down. Even if there is still some amount of hurt, constructive criticism is usually easier to accept. It is hard, but not impossible to use any type of criticism to your advantage (Dale Carnegie).

Check your confidence level and self-esteem

One thing you can do is to check your self-esteem or confidence level. When you have self-esteem, you recognize that you are able to cope with whatever you may be faced with and that you have a right to live a happy and satisfying life. Approval from others is a part of self-esteem, and it can be negatively affected if you experience rejection or a lot of criticism from people. Therefore, it has to be supported in other ways.

No one is born with high-level self-confidence. If an individual seems to express high self-confidence, it is likely that he or she worked hard at building it, sometimes for years. The challenges of life can deflate it, so you have to learn to build it. When you are confident, you understand that you trust your own abilities and judgment. You feel worthy and value yourself, regardless of any limitations or what others may believe and/or say about you. The main characteristics of confident persons are that they do what they believe to be right, even if they are mocked or criticized for it; they are willing to take risks and are not afraid to do whatever is necessary to achieve better; and they admit their mistakes and learn from them.

Analyze the criticism

It is human nature to make mistakes, but it is hard to accept someone attacking your character. Therefore, analyze any criticism aimed at you and try to see what you can learn from it; don’t ignore it. Some people may hesitate to point out something to you, but the comments from someone, though hurtful, may cause you to see what others may be thinking and saying. You can then decide if you need to make some changes in certain areas of your work, school, or personal life.

Another thing to bear in mind is that although it may not make any sense at the time of delivery, criticism has some truth to it; even when it seems to be given out of bitterness and spite. Take a step back from your immediate thoughts and try to see what the person is saying from his or her point of view. You could maybe ask a friend to give you an honest opinion on the matter and use it as a learning experience. If you learn how people see you, you can use the comments to make improvements in your interpersonal skills.

Here are a few more tips on how to use criticism to your advantage. You will need willingness, motivation and practice.

  1. Think about how you operate on a general basis outside of criticism. If you find that you are lacking in self-confidence, do some research on how to raise your level of confidence. People who are generally confident, do not allow any type of criticism to destroy that confidence.
  2. Check your anger level or defensiveness. We have a tendency to listen defensively. That is, we listen only for what we do not agree with. Consciously check yourself to see if you are only focusing on the negatives that will surely exist such as exaggerations, inaccuracies, and biases.
  3. If the person giving the comments is usually critical of everything, avoid dwelling on what they say. Being this way is probably part of their character trait.

Whatever the circumstance, do not respond in anger as this will only damage your image. Show that you are the stronger person by not giving back what you get. And bear in mind, that people who make hurtful comments all the time may be in need of psychological help. Do not be too hard on them.

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