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Criticism can be difficult to handle and many people find it impossible not to get hot under the collar when faced with poorly thought out ‘constructive criticism’; but from time to time it really is useful. As someone who soaks up a lot of it, I feel vaguely qualified to offer a few tips to those who find themselves immediately adopting the defensive stance in any battle of wills:
- DON’T get angry: Without a doubt, this is the most fundamental way to combat the misery that often accompanies negative criticism. If you get angry and defensive, the person giving the criticism will mirror you (unless they’re unusually restrained). Staying calm allows you to focus on the positives, and if there aren’t any then it’s not very constructive anyway so you can ignore it.
- LISTEN to the criticism: Believe it or not, sometimes other people do know better than you. This is something I had difficulty coming to terms with as I believe that I am 100% right, 100% of the time. Unfortunately, even if you’re a world leader in a given field you can be proved wrong, even the Theory of Relativity has been proven to be flawed. If you sit back and listen carefully to the criticism, you just might learn something.
- DON’T stoop to their level: If the person who is criticising you is doing so in an angry or aggressive manner, don’t stoop to their level. Remain calm and offer reasonable responses to their criticisms – easier said than done, I realise. This is a point that applies to both online and offline criticism. Often online criticism, particularly on forums, messageboards and blogs, can be particularly vehement thanks to the anonymity of the internet and the lack of significant repercussion – don’t end up like these guys.
- ACKNOWLEDGE your mistakes: If the criticism points out a flaw that you’re aware of and have been trying to correct, acknowledge it. None of us are infallible and admitting that you are aware of the areas in which you need to improve will make you appear gracious, and could help you improve in the long run.
- DON’T sulk: Children sulk, dogs whine when you don’t feed them scraps from the dinner table – if you have to take a hit then just suck it up. Try to learn from it; if there’s nothing to learn just try not to let it get to you and think mean thoughts about the person instead.
There you go, now it’s down to you. According to Psychology Today “The alchemy that turns the bitter dross of negative feedback into the gold of professional development is purely from within.” The language is a bit flowery, but the sentiment’s right.
For an example of how to deal with online criticism on your blog, see the comments section here.