How To Take Criticism – Reframe It As Support

“Those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship,
for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him.”
– Michel de Montaigne

How well do you take criticism? Do you immediately accept it, thank the criticizer, and apply it to your life? Or do you cringe at the first sign of unsolicited criticism?  Certainly, when the criticism is valid, we’d like to take it, learn from it and benefit – but it can sometimes hurt to of hear it.

Would you like to learn an easy way to quickly mentally reframe it – so you can take the sting out of it, but still improve from the honest feedback of friends?

If so, then this technique I’m going to describe below is for you. Read on!

Why Should You Even Bother With Criticism?

The biggest benefit of criticism is it reveals something to you that you may not know about yourself.

It reveals your blind spot. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I’m borrowing the term from one of my favorite psychological tools – the Johari Window. I don’t want to dwell on this too much as it’s a tangent we could spend a long time discussing, but very briefly, the graphic and embedded slideshow presentation covers it in detail

Very briefly, the concept of a blind spot is the things about you that other people see – but that you don’t. Criticism and feedback is the way we can increase awareness about ourselves, about the things that we know – and reduce our blind spot.

Sidebar – The Johari Window

Johari Window

Why Is Criticism Difficult To Accept?

So, we know now that without any criticism, we’d lose out on many opportunities to improve ourselves.  So, if criticism is helpful for personal growth,  why then is criticism so difficult to accept?

I think many of us don’t like hearing criticism because we may not believe it’s true – and that’s why we often get defensive. Even if we outwardly are gracious, internally we may be rationalizing and coming up with reasons for why the criticism isn’t valid.

One reason we find criticism difficult to take is it often doesn’t feel much better than being insulted – but unlike insults, when criticism is given, it is meant to help you improve your situation.

I think when I was young I learned to avoid criticism, because I didn’t separate someone trying to help me out (criticize) from someone tearing me down (insult).  Until I separated the two in my mind, all I gained from it was a feeling I had disappointed someone.

The difference is that with criticism, it’s an action or specific thing where I have fallen short – and I can take the criticism as a way to correct it.

Mentally Reframing Criticism

One tactic I use is to mentally reframe any criticism I receive as support.  I tell myself:

The only reason people are telling me what I’m doing wrong is because they care about me.  If they didn’t, they would let me continue down this wrong path and fail – but they want to see me succeed.

I also ask myself this question:

If I had come to the conclusion they had shared with me on my own, what action would I take?

Regardless of whether I agree with the criticism or not, I often come away with an action item that fits with my way of thinking, but that also will address the issue they’ve brought up. That way, I can’t lose:

  • If their criticism was accurate, I’ve potentially fixed a major flaw in my approach.
  • If the criticism I received was wrong however, I’ve still managed to move the project forward on my terms

If the criticism is completely at odds with what I’m doing, and I decide to continue down my path, I still mentally frame it not as my friends or family trying to stop me.  Rather, I mentally frame the criticism as bringing up an alternate view, a valid point, something to consider – even if it only solidifies my opinion, it’s a step in the right direction.

And I always remind myself – their criticism is not tearing me down, it’s them showing me their support.

Further Reading

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