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Life Lines: Can You Take Criticism?

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Victoria Sarne

By VICTORIA SARNE

Criticism – sometimes hard to take but often too easy to dish out. Yet criticism can be invaluable in understanding yourself, your emotions and your reactions. Like most things in life we can choose for it to be a positive or a negative experience when on the receiving end. In the best scenarios all criticism would be delivered with empathy and positive words, to engage us rather than confront us. But even when it is not carefully worded, there will be value in it as long as we can control our response.

This is particularly important in work situations where we have to make sure we keep it in context and be extra vigilant not to take criticism as a personal affront, whether it is about attitude, an idea, a methodology or a project. Nobody is right all the time and much as we like to think we are the ones in the right, it never hurts to listen. There will always be alternate points of view whether we agree with them or not. By staying calm and not erupting into self-righteous indignation, being immediately dismissive, or retiring into a sulky hurt, we can instead take the time to really think about the critic’s position and evaluate the remarks. It also gives us pause to think more deeply about the position or viewpoint which we are defending. What if this alternate point of view might have some validity? On careful reflection perhaps we will see there is a way to enlarge our vision about this particular issue.

If we view it as a starting point for a conversation rather than an argument and ask why this person holds his or her particular opinion we will gain a different understanding of how things look from someone else’s perspective. Whether we decide to take their ideas on board or not, we can view this as an opportunity to re-examine the position we are defending or justifying. If we are willing to be open-minded and receptive we might see that this is a creative moment rather than a destructive one and we can choose to either use or dismiss the information.

If the criticism is of a personal nature whether at work or in a social setting, again we need to stay calm and not erupt into indignation or angry hurt. Obviously every situation is different but getting angry or hostile never solved anything even when the criticism may be really unfair or inaccurate. Be the bigger person, the mature person. You can say something like, “I don’t think that’s fair” or “Why are you saying this?” or “I don’t want to talk about this now”, and then walk away. When you walk away and give yourself time to think rationally, you can evaluate why this remark has upset you - maybe it hit a nerve and there is some truth to it, or maybe someone has just either not understood or got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Almost everything we do or say is subject to a different interpretation no matter how carefully we think we have chosen our words or actions.

By the same token, when we are being critical, we need to use the same skills of empathy and open-mindedness to see the other person’s point of view and gain an understanding of why they are doing what they do and where our response is coming from. We should always choose to deliver our words carefully and with as much kindness as possible.

I have found in my own life that taking that moment – it need only be seconds – gives my brain a chance to think rather than just react; it makes me first question why my behaviour has evoked this particular response; did I not see the impact it might have looked at by a different set of eyes ? Was there an alternate way I could have said or done things? Or, heaven forbid, do I have to admit I was actually wrong? I said that tongue-in-cheek but there will be occasions when we have to “own up” to our imperfections or mistakes and instead of being mad that someone noticed and called us to account, we can be glad that they did because we will better for it.

• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at victoria.conversations@gmail.com, visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.

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