Criticism can ambush us. It can cut us to the quick where we feel it necessary to don full armor and defend ourselves by sharpening our own tongues and spitting out razor-sharp poison. Criticism becomes a war of thoughts and words that cannot be won, which will leave us all wounded and bleeding.
Criticism, in truth, is opinion. It is the way that someone else observes what we do, thinks about how we think, or believes about who we are, challenging what we see and want for ourselves. It attacks the vision of what we want to accomplish. But once again, criticism is merely an opinion, sometimes expressed rather hatefully.
Learning to see past criticism, or use it to strengthen ourselves can be so difficult. Yet unless we do, we waste so much of life’s precious energy on strategic plans to get even or to destroy our “enemy.” Or we turn it inward, wearing the words of others as a shroud of blame and self-loathing, which robs us of energy, joy and life.
A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her. ~David Brinkley
At a recent workshop I was teaching, someone claimed that he had not done the homework the night before because he felt that writing resumes and learning how to sell transferable skills held no value to him or the others who were destined toward blue-collar jobs.
Admittedly, I felt the sting of the disagreement and felt myself go into defense mode momentarily. My greater fear being the criticism of a new trainer who was observing my class for training, I took a moment to breathe, and to think beyond the critical claim of invalidity of what I pour my heart and soul into teaching. Understanding this was his opinion, I decided to use this as a learning experience for all of us.
“How many others feel this way?” I asked? Several hands were raised and I invited them to share their thoughts and feelings about the process, giving them permission to disagree with me and the process. A discussion was opened up with the entire class sharing opinions freely, and in a healthy, debative format.
At the end of the three-day workshop, one of the comments received on the critique forms was:
…the instructor allowed us to disagree with her and didn’t shove her ‘right answers’ down our throats.
A veiled compliment, but I’ll take them where I can get them!
Reacting defensively to criticism does not make criticism go away, but convinces those delivering the criticism that what they believe about you is true. But non-defensive reactions help to defuse potentially tense or volatile situations. We can relax, open up, and be willing to hear what others have to say and share our own opinions respectfully.
I have learned that I’d much rather be criticized than go unnoticed. At least then, I know someone is listening.