What do you do when a critic shoots his stinging quill at you? How do you handle the criticism you know is intended to beat you into submission? How do you take it when the critic sets off rapid fire darts filled with venom designed to destroy you?
One of the first things to do is to step away from the critic! Here are five ways to do that:
1. When the barb first hits you, do and say nothing in response.
Learn to resist the impulse to react or respond. There are many reasons why critics shoot their poison. Some of those reasons include:
- They want to control you through negativity.
- They are trying to find a way to elevate themselves above you. Their own insecurity seeks to verify their worth by setting themselves up as the standard of measurement.
- They are expressing their own anxieties and hurts. Remember, hurting people hurt others.
- They live in a cloud of negativity or anger, so it only feels natural to them to be negative and critical.
- They thrive on drama. A calm, peaceful, or positive environment is uncomfortable and perhaps even boring for them, therefore being critical stirs up drama.
- They have learned to believe that the best way to motivate others to get things done is through criticism.
- They have a mental illness.
You will need to arm yourself with the fact that there are multiple reasons why the critic is the way he is. The important thing to realize is that unless you are equipped to discover the root of the critic’s problem and they are willing to have you sort through their own pile of stuff, it’s really not worth your time or hassle to figure out what’s behind their comments. Get into the practice of telling yourself, The criticism says much more about the criticizer than it does about you. Memorize something helpful that you can bring to mind and focus upon when the reproach is spewed upon you; something like
Accept criticism as a reflection of the critic’s soul, and not as the truth about you as whole!
Remaining calm, even if they’ve hit a sensitive spot in your heart, will help you take control away from him and help to clean off the barf later on. Remaining calm may even bring a level of peace to the situation thereby creating an atmosphere conducive to resolving the problem (if there really is one) at hand.
Present the aura of fortified resiliency. Sit or stand tall, lift up your chin, look the critic in the eye, put on a poker face (even with a hint of a smile), and do not respond. Be the oak resisting the storm. Be the brick house withstanding the wolf’s blow hard puffs. Then, the best thing to say if they demand that you respond is to simply say, “I’ll think about what you just said.” Your response will come later.
2. If they are in a hostile tirade, step away.
Yes, physically step away! If you have not already learned how to be courageous then discover how. Read books or articles about it. Find a coach, talk with a counselor, or seek out a true friend who knows how to be tactful yet firm in the face of verbal attacks. Take classes that will elevate your confidence and train you to be bold. Come to understand and take hold of the value you have as a person. The critic might have more authority than you, but they hold no more value than you do. No boss, no peer, no parent, no person has the right to treat you like trash.
Hostile tirades are the diarrhea of a bully’s soul. You are not a commode and therefore are not designed to receive such shipoopi. Just as you would not be willing to stand under someone’s dump so you ought not be willing to stand under their verbal excrement. Critical tirades are abusive and therefore harmful.
Even if you might be boiling on the inside, you can be composed on the outside. You not only have the right but you also have a duty to yourself to remove yourself from the attack. Here are a few suggested ways:
- Calmly and firmly tell the antagonist you will not tolerate the abuse, and then walk away.
- With a stern and bold stance, with a voice loud enough for him to hear but not at a volume as to be yelling, tell the person his manner and criticism is unacceptable and when he is ready to talk in a mature manner with a helpful critique you will be willing to listen. Then walk away.
- Often times, if his behavior is habitual the best thing to do is turn around and leave. You might have to go to a place that is safe, generally around other people, especially if you are confident those people are your allies.
- If the situation is rather threatening and removing yourself from it becomes most difficult then respond with a warning that you will immediately call security or the police or someone who has the authority to disarm the attacker. Or, simply call for help without warning the antagonist.
The point is- there are ways to take yourself out of the boxing ring. You ought to be aware that those who are in the habit of hurling verbal vomit will only continue to do so if you allow it. Such people need to be stopped. Oh, and by the way, do NOT make excuses for the person’s negative, critical behavior.
3. When someone criticizes you, practice mental pause.
This means being intentional and deliberate about not taking the bait and getting lured into an argument, but taking time out to think about what was said. What are some things to think about?
- Whether the source of the criticism is worthy of your time. If the person is chronically petty then their words, however caustic or strong or loud, are probably worth .000001 seconds of brain energy. If the verbal assault is coming from someone of considerable influence or importance then it’s most likely that you should take at least one-fourth of a moment to think about whether there is any truth to the criticism.
- Whether the criticism is true or false. If the criticism is valid and the sting of it rings true, then take the time to reflect on it for the purpose of making a healthy, positive change. In other words, translate the criticism into a meaningful critique. See it as an opportunity for personal growth.
- Pause to think about how others have perceived and received criticism. Here are some illustrations or quotes to tuck into your mental belt:
- “Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” – Les Brown
- “Growth always comes from taking action, and taking action almost always brings criticism.” – John Maxwell
- “Don’t let critics set your agenda.” – Rudolph Giuliani
- “Criticism…carries the unspoken implication that we would have done much better than what has been done, without us ever having to demonstrate whether we could or not.” – Tom Marshall
- “No matter how personal the attack, your response should be aimed entirely toward advancing the goals of those you serve. Theodore Roosevelt recommended that a leader continues to ‘fight his way forward’ in the face of ‘unfair and ungenerous criticism,’ ‘paying only so much regard…as is necessary to enable him to win in spite of them.'” – James M. Strock
Practicing mental pause also gives you the opportunity to respond well. Responding well means being emotionally mature, mentally sound, and personally prepared to give an appropriate rejoinder. There is a big difference between being defensive and defending yourself. More on that subject at another time.
4. When hit with criticism take a time out to check out your buttons.
In this case, a button is something about which you are sensitive. It is a touchy area of your life. Some people are naturally super sensitive; and may even be sensitive about their sensitivity! Others have the emotional sensitivity like the hide of a crocodile. What emotionally impacts you probably isn’t something that affects me or anyone else. We are all different in this way.
How we develop those buttons depends upon our physiological makeup. We receive certain mental, emotional and social quotients and proclivities from our biological parents (some say about 40%). How we developed those buttons also depend upon our positive and negative experiences, training, encounters, coming out of a variety of geographical and social environments, and the like. All of these things make us who we are.
There are different types of buttons, but let’s name just three:
- Guilt – something about which you are genuinely guilty. You have violated a norm, law, or some social value. In this case, find a way to resolve it.
- Shame – a sense of humiliation, or a loss of respect and esteem. Often times we have learned from others to feel shame even though we may not (some say hardly ever) be guilty of anything wrong. If this is the case, then revise your perspective.
- Fear – is anxiety or apprehension that often comes from a threatening experience; a sense you are being threatened. In this case reform your life. Learn how not to be as fearful and to be fearful in a healthy manner.
If you have such buttons that are easily pushed or have identified emotional triggers, something criticism can bring to light, then find healthy ways to address them, correct them, and perhaps remove them.
5. Step away from counterfeit capital, but step toward what is valuable.
Take the criticism for what it is worth. As they say “consider the source.” There are occasions when we give capital to the critic even when the critic brings little to no value to our own lives. It’s a curious thing we do as people when we desire someone’s approval. In our own minds we give a place value to them and their opinions. A feisty little two-year old we do not even know who makes some passing criticism about the shoes we are wearing will not have much capital. In other words, her snarky comment is rather inconsequential.
However, if we put a premium on another person’s view of us because we think he or she is highly valued (popular girl in school, a famous actor, the handsome athlete everyone adores, the big brother, special cousin, the boss, etc.), or because of what we think he or she can give to us (a better reputation, money, significance, and so forth) then what that person says through criticism will probably be emotionally painful. We want their acceptance, accolades, appreciation, affection, and all other things that start with an ‘a’. We assign an arbitrary price tag on their view of us. If, in our minds, such-and-so is highly regarded or has high value for us but she rebuffs, rejects, or criticizes then we have an unfair trade: our valuation is exchanged for dirt.
Yet, here is the irony: if you or I do not give that other person that kind of emotional or social capital then they cannot effectively push those buttons. The more value you give them in your mind the more painful their rebuff or criticism will be. Ultimately, when you have a sound and healthy perspective about yourself and life you will recognize that you have the power to place whatever value you desire to their opinions.
I am not advocating you treat them as non-entities. To do that is to bring yourself on their dirt-cheap level. Treat others as having value as persons, but do not give them value that is undeserved or to be merely exchanged for what you want.
Find true value in what is truly valuable. Focus your life on that. Exchange the criticism for that which can help you improve, to make positive change, and to grow into someone who brings greater value to yourself and for the positive benefit of others.
When you encounter a critical person and become the target of their verbal arrows, one of the first things to do is to step away from that critic. We’ve seen five ways to do that. Stepping away physically, mentally, emotionally and the like, is important; but it does not resolve the issues(s) at hand. I am not advocating a position of removing yourself from the critic hoping that he or she will just take her biting remarks and go away. Critical people rarely ever do. Stepping away from the critic is the first of several steps toward bringing about a healthy change to yourself, to the situation, and perhaps even to the relationship with the critic.
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