“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” ~ Aristotle
This quote resonated with me strongly this month for a number of reasons.
First, so many of my clients appear to be limited (or defined) by the criticism they received when they were younger. Many have carried this feedback in their minds for years, or even decades, and are struggling to come to terms with it. There was some huge anguish in letting go of criticism. The second reason was my personal fear of saying, doing or writing something which might bring out criticism from others.
As much as I am all for speaking my mind and building self-confidence, there is a tiny voice inside which sometimes says, “Are you really going to post that? What if someone disagrees with you or doesn’t like it?” I most certainly am not immune to harsh feedback, and although I can recall many times when I have walked away from criticism better and stronger, there are still remnants of fear in anticipating criticism. So all signs are definitely pointing to some criticism deconstruction. I hope you are with me on this!
What is criticism anyway? One person’s criticism might be another’s constructive feedback. It could be the opportunity to improve a service or product, better a relationship, let go of an unhealthy habit or it could be great for growth and self-improvement. Criticism can also be unhelpful, unwanted, unnecessary feedback given by someone who is coming from a negative place instead of a place where progress is possible. Either way, it can be confronting, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes, hurtful.
There are people in my life who have stopped showing up for their families, their passions, for their lives, because they were broken as a result of the criticism they endured from others. Some people limit themselves or develop an, “I don’t care” attitude to different areas of their lives—to fall in line with the criticism that “defined” them. Clearly this is not a very satisfactory way of living!
Today, through social media, feedback can be instantaneous. It can come at us when we are not even ready to take it on. So, how do we filter out the good and let go of the bad feedback? What process can we internalize to help us navigate through the bombardment of feedback.
Here are the three steps I have started to implement into my life:
1. Define my boundaries.
Boundaries are not so much about protecting our hearts or our vulnerability. Rather, they are to ensure we can always be present in our lives and our interactions with an open-heart. A lot of people define their own boundaries in negative sentences such as, “I will never participate in gossip,” or, “I will not let anyone take advantage of me.” These are not really effective boundaries.
Effective boundaries are the rules which allow an individual to connect with themselves and their external world in the most authentic and positive way. Marie Forleo stated recently that she has a secret organization called the “Ministry of Kindness” which has the rule “be kind or leave.” Similarly, one of my personal boundaries is about sincerity: “It all begins and ends with sincerity.” When I approach a situation from a place of sincerity, I feel most authentic and self-aware. It gives me the self-confidence to make clear decisions for myself. In the case of incoming feedback, it’s just as simple. If it isn’t sincere to me, I don’t take it on board. Some other examples that I have come across include:
Honesty: “Being honest is the best way.”
Generosity: “Giving has nothing to do with receiving.”
To create your own personal boundary practice, pick three to five attributes you wish to live by, e.g., honesty, kindness, generosity, and so on. Write a rule for each of these attributes. The rule should be one simple and easy to follow sentence. Persistence and practice makes perfect! Take note of the emotional reactions and the sense of fulfillment once the new rules are implemented.
2. Did I ask for it?
I remember the bombardment of “advice” I would get from my parents when I became a new mother. Can anyone relate to this? I received so much unwanted criticism that made me feel more incompetent than I already felt I was!
It eventually dawned on me, that it wasn’t really about what I was saying to them; it was what I was not saying. The indirect cues prompting them to give me input. I was calling them straight after my child threw a tantrum, or when I was emotionally charged about a big decision I had to make that would impact him.
A lot of my actions were screaming for advice or help, without directly asking for it. Then when I received it, I would walk away feeling like they were criticizing my ability as a mother. Maybe they were, unintentionally, but I kind of asked for it!
So, whenever feedback comes to me and it throws me, I reflect on whether I asked for it. How have I presented myself and my boundaries (step 1), that has generated this feedback.
3. Who are you?
What has this person giving me feedback done with their life for it to be valid? Is this feedback something worth taking on board or is it something I can park for later use? Is this person speaking from their own negativity or is the feedback genuine with the intent to help me improve?
Sometimes our relatives (with the best of intentions, of course) are the first to lovingly point out how we are doing the worst thing for our futures. Our family may think that they are being protective or speaking from experience. Sometimes people are hurt more by strangers than by the people they love.
Sometimes we are more affected by the trolls on multimedia than the feedback given by teachers or mentors. Being aware of who we listen to and what we take on board can determine so much of our progress and our fulfillment.
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” ˜ Mahatma Gandhi
Criticism, feedback, whatever we call it, at the end of the day is communication. We, as human beings, are the most evolved species in our ability to communicate with one another. We hold great power but how often do we accept that responsibility? As the people receiving feedback, often times we are also the ones giving it. How many times have we spoken from our place of fear rather than for the betterment of the receiver? How many times have we used harsh words or judgment of others and communicated this, verbally or non-verbally? Criticism is only criticism if there is someone on the other end to receive it. So is praise.
Here are the three ways for being a better giver of feedback:
1. Don’t be that guy.
This is about communicating from an open-heart and giving feedback with respect to the boundaries I have set for myself. Being aware on how my boundaries are expressed through my words, my body language and my facial expressions.
A fantastic example of not speaking from personal boundaries is when someone says “No offense, but…” Everyone knows this is going to hurt as soon as those words come out. The reality is, the speaker is about to say something they themselves would find offensive. They are not communicating from their open-heart, but rather their fears.
2. Foot-in-my-mouth disease
I think I spent most of my twenties with “foot in my mouth” disease. This is where I opened my mouth and shared opinions about other people’s lives that were really none of my business. I often went from having nothing to do with these stories, to being right in the middle of them. I used to wonder what was happening, why was I the bad guy for saying what really needed to be said? Here’s what I know now about that—I was never asked for my opinion in the first place. These were stories and frustrations which were being retold by other people in my presence. Was I asked to fix the problem? No. Was I given a hint that my opinion would be helpful? No. I just assumed, quite arrogantly, that it was.
Now, I check-in with myself if my opinion was requested. Will it benefit the receiver? Is it necessary?
3. Are you ready for it?
Sometimes the receiver might not be ready to hear feedback, no matter how great it might be. They might be too emotional to hear logical feedback or maybe they are just not in the proper mind space to take on gentle criticism. To find out if they are, ask them a few questions, which would prompt the receiver to give “yes” answers. Such as, “Are you okay for me to give you some feedback on this topic?” Or, “Would you like my opinion on this topic?” A few “yes” answers will put both the receiver and giver of feedback on the same plane for open-hearted communication.
Sometimes we are that person listening to the choices our loved ones are making and disagreeing with them. We are the ones fearing for their potential mistakes. We are the ones burning to share our perspective and our opinions. Communication works for those who work at it. It is a dance between the givers and the takers, where without one the other cannot exist. Where there is criticism, there is also praise. Learning to be good at giving and taking criticism, can definitely make life that much more enjoyable.
“If you can tell the truth in a way that serves the people close to you, you have the capacity to lead them to their greatest potential.” ˜ Elena Brower.
Author: Dimutha Perera
Image: Crushed by criticism image via Shutterstock
Apprentice Editor: Deb Jarrett Editor: Travis May