Finding The Gift Of Criticism
It is easy to act like a porcupine when we receive criticism—we tend to stiffen up and throw our quills. When we view negative feedback as rejection, we feel the need to defend ourselves against it by interrupting, blaming or pointing out other people’s faults. We have a difficult time with managing our anger and we become defensive.
Defensiveness Harms Relationships
Poor reactions to negative feedback, particularly when it comes from relationships closest to us, can damage our relationships and even prevent us from enjoying the deep relationships that result from allowing others to really know us and be open with us.
Shift Your Perspective
On the other hand, shifting our paradigm to see the benefits of negative feedback can be a great asset. We can learn from feedback of any kind—even if our first instinct is to deny that the feedback has any merit. Looking for the kernel of truth in negative feedback and using it to improve ourselves is a skill that can help us reach our highest potential.
In the book Team of Rivals, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how Abraham Lincoln placed some of his most obvious critics in positions to give him feedback every day so that he could effectively govern.“Lincoln,…made the unprecedented decision to incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family, the cabinet. . . . Every member of this administration was better known, better educated, and more experienced in public life than Lincoln.”
Your Critics Will Tell You The Truth
The powerful competitors who had originally disdained Lincoln became colleagues who helped him steer the country through its darkest days.” In another example from Lincoln’s life, Edwin Stanton, who had been one of his sharpest critics, later became one of Lincoln’s closest friends. Lincoln valued Stanton’s feedback so much that when he heard that Stanton had called him a fool, he reportedly said, “Well, if Stanton said I was a fool, I must be one, for he is nearly always right and generally says what he means. I will step over and see him.”
Rather than defend himself against the negative feedback, Lincoln effectively managed his anger. Lincoln chose to go ask for clarification from the person who had criticized him so that he could improve himself. Lincoln’s story illustrates that we can form relationships with people who are critical of us. We can benefit from their criticism and maintain our self esteem.
How to Deal with Negative Feedback:
Irvin D. Yalom, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, offers great suggestions for responding to negative feedback:
- 1. Listen intently. Pause before you respond.
- 2. Repeat the criticism back to the person using “I hear you say . . .” and then ask, “Did I get it all?”
- 3. Either own the criticism or ask for time to think about it.
- 4. Check in with yourself and ask whether the criticism clicks with your own experience of yourself. Does any part, even five percent, ring true?
- 5. Ask yourself whether other people have given you this feedback before.
- 6. Identify people you respect with whom you can evaluate the feedback.
- 7. Be honest with yourself—it is possible someone is seeing something about you that you are aware of.
If you try following these steps but find that negative feedback still throws you into an emotional tailspin, you may need additional help. A licensed therapist can help you learn how to grow from negative feedback and improve your relationships. Contact me to set up an appointment. If you are dealing with a close family member who is unable to control their temper, you might consider having them evaluated for a bi polar disorder or other personality disorder traits.
Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW
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Goodwin, Doris Kearns.(2006) Simon & Schuster. Team of Rivals. New York: New York
Yalom, Irvin D. (1995) Basic Books. New York: New York
Scoresby, Lynn. (1998) Knowledge Gain. Orem: Utah