There is a saying “to escape criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing,” but I have a feeling that you’ll still have your critics because people are outstanding at taking their critical eye off of themselves and casting their judgmental gaze upon others. It’s what a lot of people do.
There are a number of different approaches when it comes to these people shelling out their opinion but how you engage their words will be basically the same. You hear what is said, you consider the words without allowing the tone to taint your understanding, consider the information that is being given to you and the actions it helps you take or avoid, you then consider the source of the criticism to determine the amount of value their words should be given and then you make whatever changes you need to based on the merit of the criticism. And if you don’t know what to do or what you think, you simply just wait until you do know what to do.
This approach is effective because it makes the initial assumption that what the person is saying *may be* valid so you do not waste good feedback because of the source; good advice or criticism is good regardless of who says it. Don’t miss out on a gem of wisdom simply because it came out of the mouth of someone who doesn’t like you.
“You are a complete asshole” – this type of criticism isn’t helpful because it reveals nothing about WHY the sayer believes you to be an asshole. There are no clear actions to come out of it. They are likely trying to hurt you for something or number of things they believe you have done. It doesn’t matter who says this, it’s not worth engaging. Probably the best reply is “thanks, I’m lots of things!”
“When you raised your voice, I thought you were going to hurt me” – this is very helpful because it reveals the emotional state of the sayer (fear) and it introduces the catalyst for their emotional state (your action of raising your voice). It is reasonable, regardless of who says this to you, that you can avoid this person becoming fearful by not raising your voice. It reveals a lot about their past, likely that they’ve been exposed to yelling in a caring environment that was supposed to be safe and nurturing.
“When I was with you, you never knew what you wanted” – this isn’t very helpful or actionable because it reveals opinion and it is passively blaming. This isn’t the type of criticism that is very useful on it’s own and, given that it is reports about something in the past, it isn’t actionable. Your options here are to engage the person in a conversation to find out what they are trying to say or just thank them for their opinion and move on. It may be worth considering off-line, but if they are in your past consider just leaving them there.
“Well, I wouldn’t have done X if you didn’t do Y” – this is fantastic criticism because it reveals a lot about the sayer and it provides you with the framework for preventing X in the future by avoiding Y. All is well until we consider the source, then it should be rather scary. If you doing Y makes someone do X, you have a surprising amount of control over them; you don’t actually so there’s a very good chance that you are talking to someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for their actions.
Now, the best part about criticism is that when you have some for someone else, you can be very confident that you have the same criticism of yourself.
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