How To Deal With Criticism Pt 1

The fact of the matter is, no matter what you do in life, you will be criticized on it.  Whether you're a writer, an artist, a designer, a chef, an executive, it doesn't matter.  No matter what career you choose, there will always be criticism.

How to Respond, Not React to Criticism

Now if you are not the best at receiving criticism or if you are the type of person who is easily offended by criticism, this could really hurt your career and ultimately your ability to develop as a person.  Often times, when we are upset by something, we, as humans, have a tendency to react, sometimes overreact. 

Ultimately though, with criticism, it is much better if we can reach a point in our lives that we have the ability to breathe, think on it and then respond, not react.  There are three very simple steps that you can practice in your life and then put into action when it comes to criticism. 

Number one, love what you do.  Seems simple enough, right?  The truth is, if you really love what you do, then your work will reflect that.  And if you truly love what you do, then you will find yourself becoming more open to outside criticism.  If your work is nothing more than a hobby or something you do just to make money, it will be much harder for you to receive criticism. 

Number two, believe in what you do.  You should only do something that you truly believe in.  If you have strong convictions about what you do, then someone's criticism of your work will fuel those convictions, not dismantle them.  Plus, you will be able to not only receive the criticism graciously, you will actually be able to have conversations about it!

Number three, find the positive in everything.  Unfortunately, criticism inherently carries a negative connotation.  There are not many people who hear the word criticism or critic and think, "Oh how wonderful!  I am being critiqued today."  So with any criticism, it is imperative to find the positive aspects of it, no matter where or who it comes from. 

Let's face it, you are going to be criticized by people in all facets of your life.  But if you can integrate these three very simple steps into your life, you will find that that terrible feeling will begin to go away, and you will be able to respond, not react, to the comments being made.  Over time, you will actually welcome criticism.  It may sound crazy now, but give it time.  It really can happen for you!

Eye-Opening Criticism

Think about a time in your life when someone criticized something you did and it really affected you.  Perhaps it came at a time when you were already feeling down, and it really hurt you.  You probably said to yourself, "Why would someone say that?  That's just mean."  Perhaps you will even allow it to fester and make you angry.

But what you may not realize is that how you react to criticism can change your life, either for the better or for the worse, and it can even change the lives of those around you.  If you allow criticism to upset you, then you will, eventually, become a very angry human being.  This really doesn't do any good for you and it doesn't do any good for anyone around you either.  If you allow it, negativity will do nothing but breed more negativity.  And who wants to live like that?

Instead, try to take that very moment, when you receive the criticism, and tell yourself that from every negative critique comes positive change in your life.  If you can keep an open mind, that negative critique has the power to have a positive impact on you in more ways than you could ever imagine.  It can make you smarter, it can make you stronger, it can make you a more patient person, it can help you develop better personal skills, it can help you see your work from different angles, and really, in general, you will be a much happier person.  If you can do nothing else, at least take that negative and turn it into what fuels you to do better. 

The most exciting part of criticism is that it can actually bring ideas and people together.  It can even change the course of history.  Think about people like Nelson Mandela.  What if he decided to give up?  What if he let all the negative criticism around him, from the citizens in his country, from the media and from politicians, pull him down and make him angry and violent?  Do you think the same outcome would have occurred in South Africa?  No way! 

Sometimes criticism can be the key element that ends up opening people's eyes to see an injustice.  It can open people's eyes to a different way of doing something, and not just in the political world.  How do you think art movements like Impressionism, Surrealism and Modernism came about?  How were strides made in terms of new technology?  Do you think those people were surrounded by only positive feedback?  Of course not!  But look what they were able to create and how many lives they impacted!

Criticism as Appreciation

You know, people hear the word criticism and they almost automatically flinch.  Their heart beats a little faster and they prepare themselves for the worst.  It's a pretty safe bet that those same people never looked up synonyms for the word "criticism."  If they did, they'd see words like appreciation, appraisal and observation; none of which carry the same negative connotation.   

Who doesn't want their work to be appreciated?  There is great value in the appreciation of a work.  Think about the art world.  If someone said they appreciate your work of art, would you cringe?  Of course not, because even though they didn't tell you what they appreciate about your work yet, you assume it's a good thing.  And your assumption is based solely on your interpretation of the word. 

Why can't we see criticism the same way?  In today's society, people are so afraid of the word criticism.  Why doesn't it offer the same happy feelings that the word appreciation gives?  If someone tells you that they love your work, don't you want to know why?  If someone says they hate your work, don't you still want to know why?  There is so much that you can learn from someone's opinion or critique of your work.

Let's go back to the appreciation of your work of art.  Let's say that person explained to you that what they actually appreciate about your work is the fact that it reminds them of a sad, very emotional time in their life.  Your assumption just hit a brick wall.  Your work is supposed to represent the most joyful moment of your life and here this person feels sad just by looking at it.  But this is their opinion. 

This is their critique of your work based on their life's experiences.  No one on this earth has had the same experiences.  We all see things differently and therefore we all have different reactions.  And this can be applied to every facet of life.  People have different experiences and those experiences create different reactions.  Now since when did that become a bad thing? 

 Instead of hearing the word criticism and immediately cringing, try to think of it in a different light.  You are gaining knowledge.  You are gaining an insight into someone else's world.  They are sharing their experiences with you in the form of their critique of your work.  They are showing an appreciation of your work based solely on their own experiences.  Not so bad anymore, right?

Criticism and Language

Criticism, for many people, carries the same meaning as judgment.  In fact, one of the top synonyms of criticism is judgment.  And one of the top synonyms of critic is judge.  No wonder people have such a hard time with this term!  Who wants to be judged?  Obviously, people get defensive when it comes to being criticized.  They can't see the benefits, because the judgment side of it is so overpowering.  And in today's society, the word judgment doesn't exactly carry a good connotation.

But if you go back in time, a clearer picture of why those two words are synonymous with words like judge and judgment begins to form.  In the English language, we often forget that our words have a social and historical context to them.  Language develops out of culture, and it affects how we perceive the words we use.  There can be so many connotations to a word, and if we don't look at the historical and social context, we can miss the whole point. 

Let's take just two words as an example.  First, the word "awful" used to mean something that was inspiring.  Today, awful means something bad or terrible.  Quite a difference, right?  Complete opposites really.  For the second example, take the word "thongs."  Thongs used to refer to a pair of flip-flops, but we all know very well that that is not what people refer to now when they say, "I want to buy thongs."  In fact, I can just imagine the reaction of a teenager who overhears that sentence, especially if it's their grandmother who says it.

Judgment and criticism have also suffered the same, although not as comical, misconceptions.  A judgment was the opinion of a person of high regard.  It used to carry the meaning of a belief or opinion based on study and higher education.  Today, we often think of a judgment as an opinion based in ignorance, not education. 

The word judge has gone through even more changes.  In Jewish history, judges were leaders.  The word had a positive connotation of strong, protective individuals.  Then, judges became those who bore the responsibility of sentencing those who committed crimes.  Again, not meant to have a negative connotation, but perhaps during the years of slavery, that all changed.  Today, we tend to think of judges more so as those on American Idol or The Voice.

The point being, we need to take a deep breath and a step back when we think of the words criticism or critic.  Although they have been distorted over the years, they truly do represent concepts that mirror our idea of positive feedback, which is only meant to help you develop in your area of expertise.

Criticism & Success

Nowadays, criticism has such a negative connotation that most people automatically react poorly to even just the term itself, without even thinking about its benefits.  People think that the phrase "constructive criticism" is just something people made up so they could put a positive swing on bashing your work.  What happened to turn such a positive form of communication into a hated and feared concept?   

Perhaps our upbringing has tainted our idea of criticism.  Could it be that people took this term and used it to justify their judgments on your life's choices?  Perhaps you heard one too many times that they were just giving you "constructive criticism" and you shouldn't take it so personally.  Perhaps in school you weren't the strongest in one subject and the teacher made fun of you and called it criticism. 

But criticism really should be one of the best forms of helping others succeed.  Criticism is meant to come from experts in the field.  It is meant to be positive, despite what it has become over the years.  And although for many, it feels like a personal attack, maybe there can be a way for us to see how it is a learning experience for not only the person being critiqued, but for the critics themselves. 

For the person being critiqued, it is a way to grow in their field.  There is so much to learn from someone who is experienced in your profession.  Everyone has experiences in life and in the business realm, and criticism is a great way to share those experiences with others.  If you're a writer, you will become a better writer through criticism.  If you're an artist, you will become a better artist through criticism.  Someone will open your eyes to another perspective and your work will evolve into the best work you've ever done.

And criticism benefits the critic just as much as the person being criticized.  The critic is learning, at the same time, a new perspective.  They are learning the perspective of the writer or the artist, and they can, in turn, use that perspective to help them develop their own work.

A true critic is meant to first put themselves in the shoes of the artist.  Next, they should look at the work from the public's view.  Then they should look at the work from their own view, from their own experience in the field.  Think about it.  If you are getting advice from someone who just looked at your work from three different angles, that's three different angles than your own.  Think about how much you could learn, and think about how much that would help you grow as an artist or a writer.  The possibilities are endless!

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