I have a very hard time being criticized, corrected, or accused – even of the smallest mistakes – and I react very angrily. I’ve wrestled this instinct under control in a professional context, more or less, but I have more trouble with it at home. All it takes is for the Big Girl to say something like, “You forgot to remind me to bring my library book,” to send me into a tirade. “What do you mean…it’s not my responsibility…I didn’t know Wednesday was Library Day…” etc., etc.
More and more, I see the connection between perfectionism, control, and anger. Zoikes, how I try to be more mild-mannered and easy-going! Here are some of the strategies that I try to use to accept criticism. If I manage to use them, they never fail me, but it can be hard to have the mindfulness needed to apply them.
1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you formulate your retorts.
2. Don’t be defensive. This is the toughest step for me. With my writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I’m eager to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. Along the same lines…
3. Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic. Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it just isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective.
4. Delay your reaction. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. A friend told me that she has a rule for herself: when she’s upset about something that happened at her children’s school, she won’t let herself do anything about it for three days – and usually she decides that no action is better than action.
5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings and motives. Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.
6. Admit your mistakes. This is extremely effective and disarming. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true. Difficult, but true. Admitting mistakes is the first step, then…
7. Explain what you’ve learned. If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it. That, itself, usually mollifies critics.
8. Enjoy the fun of failure. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high opens you to criticism. I tell myself to Enjoy the fun of failure to try to re-frame failure and criticism as part of the fun. Otherwise, my dread of criticism can paralyze me.
What am I overlooking? Have you found any other strategies that work for you?
I just came across an interesting blog — Work Life Love. Many of my favorite topics.
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.