This one might be difficult in the beginning but, once you get used to it, it’s great. You may find out a lot of stuff about yourself that you didn’t know before. You think you are one kind of person, but others may disagree.
And it’s their right to do so. Everybody is unique, hence we’re all different. And this is very good news. Every once in a while you will face some criticism, even some some rejection. Deal with it upfront.
Acknowledge that they have the right to express their opinion. And accept the fact that your actions may not always be in sync with their expectations. If they talk about you, regardless of how they do it, you’re important.
Every critique is a disguised opportunity, as long as you can carefully listen to it.
How To Deal With Criticism
Every once in a while, like I said, you’re gonna piss someone off. You may do this on purpose, because you disagree with them, or you may do it even without realizing that you’re upsetting them. Fact is, at some point in your life, you will generate some bad feedback, it’s unavoidable.
How to cope with this? How to make this useful? How to get what’s “good” out of it and leave the “bad” behind? (the quotes are because “good” and “bad” are very relative).
Before answering to these questions I want to stress the difference between critics and trolls. Most of the time, critics are genuinely interested in making you a better person. Or at least in correcting something that they feel it needs correcting. Whereas trolls are interested only in stealing attention from you. The easiest way to differentiate between critics and troll is to use the question “why?” a couple of times. After a few iterations, critics will stop, because they made their point. Trolls will keep going no matter how many times you ask “why?”.
Now, back to the negative feedback digestion mechanism.
In my experience, this is a 3 steps approach. Number one: don’t react. Number two: walk in their shoes. Number three: walk back in your shoes and see how it feels.
Let’s take them one at a time.
Number One: Don’t React
We all have protective mechanisms. Some of them are buried deep down in the unconscious and we’re not even aware that we’re using them. These protective mechanisms are triggered when we face threat, and they play a very important role in survival.
The problem with these protective mechanisms arises when we have confusing definitions for the concept of “threat”. For instance, when we’re attacked on the street, with intent and aggressiveness, that fits the main definition of “threat”. The protective mechanism, being it yelling, pushing or punching, should be triggered.
But when someone, in a discussion, openly disagrees with us, with honesty, but in a harsh language, well, that’s debatable. How much is this a threat, it depends. The protective mechanisms shouldn’t be triggered, or at least their amplitude shouldn’t match the yelling, pushing or punching of the first example.
And yet, these mechanisms are triggered even in those “not so threatening” contexts, and that’s what I understand by “reaction”. When I say to myself “don’t react”, I say in fact “don’t use the protective mechanisms”. It’s in fact “don’t overreact”.
If you give in to this fear, if you treat those tiny disagreements like threats, you’re gonna lose a lot. First, you’re gonna lose a lot of energy. “Over” in “overreacting” takes a lot of energy to unfold. Second, you’re gonna lose the opportunity to extract “the good” stuff: if you escalate the disagreement, there won’t be any place left for conversation, it will be just a disguised war. Violence doesn’t leave room for communication, it only cares about imposing one’s will over another.
So, the first step (and the most difficult, I agree) is: “don’t react”. Just breathe.
Even if you don’t go to the next steps below, the simple fact of keeping cool will be a big advantage.
Number Two: Walk In Their Shoes
If you managed to keep it under control in the step above, try to see the world through their lenses. In other words, try to understand their point of view. Try to understand why they reacted like this and why they felt the need to express that reaction.
It’s not easy, I know. It’s a level of complexity above the first step. If “number one” can be trained with enough exercise, this one requires something more. It needs empathy and sensitivity. It needs patience and compassion. And these are harder to train then just a reflex response to an apparently threatening situation.
But once you do this, a little light will start to shine. What seemed like an uncontrolled wave of violence and destruction, will start to make some sense. Maybe, from where the other one is standing, it all makes sense. Maybe he had a different life than you. Maybe he has different values than you. Maybe he has different needs than you.
And all these differences are starting to make sense. The more you walk in their shoes, the more you understand their reasons.
Number Three: Walk Back In Your Shoes
If you managed to do the first steps correctly, the third one is almost effortless. All you have to do is to look back at your own behavior and understand what caused the problem. Understand why you generated criticism. And evaluate.
Try to understand what you should do. Sometimes you have to change your talk. Sometimes you have to change your walk too, in order to match your talk. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything, just acknowledge the fact the some people may have a different opinion than you and move on.
But once you’re at the end of the third step, something really nice happened: you saved a lot of energy by not reacting with an exaggerated protective mechanism, you made an interesting journey in someone else’s shoes, and, eventually, you learned something valuable for yourself.
Sometimes criticism may delay your journey, or at least it will make you feel like you’re losing time in this 3 steps process. But slowing down every once in a while is good.
Makes you enjoy the scenery even more…