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Accepting Criticism

Estimated Lesson Time: 6 minutes

Gautama Buddha’s preaching was interrupted one day by a man unleashing a flurry of abusive invective. Calmly waiting for his critic to finish, Buddha asked, “If a man offered a gift to another, but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?” “To the one who offered it,” the man replied.

“Then,” Buddha declared, “I decline to accept your abuse and request that you keep it for yourself.”

Or as Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon), in the movie Superstar, so eloquently put it, “I am rubber, you are glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

Buddha and Mary knew one of the main rules for accepting criticism: one does not have to accept it!

Criticism is essentially feedback, in which there are two parts: giving and accepting. In this lesson, we will discuss accepting criticism and how it can work toward our success.

The first rule of accepting criticism is understanding the motivation behind the criticism. Understanding this motivation helps you decide how valid the criticism is, and whether to accept it or not. Here are some of the more common reasons why people criticize.

  • Out of jealousy. When others are jealous of your work, they will criticize with the intent of damaging your self-esteem. It is usually easy to spot this motivation because the critic will usually have something to gain by your failure.
  • Out of anger or frustration. Often when someone gets frustrated, they misdirect their frustration and start playing the blame game. This blame is dished out in the form of undue criticism. Most of the time, this criticism is outrageous and even laughable to those with a clear head. This kind of criticism can easily be identified by the tone and the words used to criticize.
  • Concerned for one’s own interest. People have different tastes and preferences. Some critics will criticize based on their own personal preferences. Now this can be a perfectly legitimate form of criticism, as in the case where the work criticized is especially for the critic. Take for example someone who hires an artist to paint a portrait. The one who is being painted is justified in criticizing the work based on his own personal preferences since the work was specifically done for him.
  • Concerned for mutual interest. This is the most common form of criticism given by customers and employees. They criticize with the hopes that changes will be made that will better their situation and the company/individual in general.
  • Concerned for your best interest. Criticism made by parents, loved ones, or good friends is usually done with your best interest in mind. This is important to realize because it is this group of “critics” that are usually the most resented for their criticism.

The second rule of accepting criticism is choosing to accept it or not. Based on the motivation of the critic, do you think this criticism has merit? If so, how much merit does it have? Accepting criticism is using the criticism to better your work or performance. Rejecting the criticism is not letting the criticism affect your work, performance, or especially your attitude.

The third rule is responding to the criticism. This is where most people damage their reputations and good will by reacting to the criticism negatively. A response is reaction with thought. In this case, we have already thought about the motivation of the critic and chosen to accept it or not. No matter what our response is, it should be stated positively.

Why is accepting criticism so difficult? Here are some of the top reasons:

  • Other people do not know how to criticize properly. Most people criticize in such a way that makes us very emotional. However, we know that we cannot control how other people express themselves, but we can control how we internally respond to their criticism. Practice self-control.
  • We often take it too personally. We must remember that it is our actions or performance that is really being criticized and not us.
  • We fail to put criticism in perspective. If you have created a work of art that thousands of people admire, and a few express dislike, realize that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. It is true that for every one person who criticizes, there are probably ten more who feel the same way, but even with these numbers your work or performance is being enjoyed by the majority.
  • We fear failure. Trump does not make great deals all the time, Benjamin Franklin did not always have good inventions, and Schwarzenegger certainly does not always make great movies. Our fear of failure, rather than acceptance of it, causes us to often deny the truth or at least be blinded by our own ego. When criticism is just, we must accept it graciously, learn from it, and move on.

Critics often expect harsh reactions to their criticism, probably because that is the way most people respond. Not successful people. Shock your critics by thanking them for their feedback and if you choose to accept the criticism, share with them what way you plan on using their criticism. If your critics say things such as, “You suck!” or “Your work sucks!” don’t ignore it. Ask them to elaborate as to what about you or your work they dislike.

Criticism is an extremely valuable element to success. Since most success is based on providing something of value for others, it is important to value the opinions of others and change your actions based on good feedback. It is this feedback that helps us to achieve success.

Sources: Will and Ariel Durant, The History of Civilization; Harpers, Oct. 2002


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    Bo Bennett, PhD
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    Personal Development : Personal Transformation
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