My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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8 Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism. Which I Find Very, Very Challenging.

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Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 8 tips for dealing calmly with criticism.

I have a very hard time being criticized, corrected, or accused – even of the smallest mistakes – and I react very angrily. I struggle to respond calmly and constructively — even when it’s something like my six-year-old saying, “You forgot to put my library book in my backpack.” It’s all I can do not to snarl, “Why didn’t you remember your library book?” 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.

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 want to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. It’s really uncannily effective; acting friendly and eager to learn makes me feel friendlier and more eager to learn. 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 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. I find it’s much easier to apply this rule when I’m responding in writing. I’ve trained myself to think long and hard before hitting “send” or “enter.”

5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings, actions, 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. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame when you deserve it, 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?

* The blog on the site Hunch did a funny, thought-provoking look at the question, Can making the bed change your life?

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