by Dr. Kendra A. O’Hora, LCMFT
For some reason, clients ask me a lot how they should handle the words, comments, and feedback of family, friends, and employers. So, read on because this post gets to the heart of this question…
Often we think our friends and family are supposed to lift us up, give us support, and love us endlessly. But what do we do when they offer those often hard-to-hear criticisms?
Today, I hope to share four tips for how to handle constructive criticism. I hope that through this post you can navigate these relationships with a little more grace and ease.
It’s not criticism. OK – well maybe it is. The point being that our culture has turned the word criticism into a primarily negative connotation. But criticism is not necessarily negative.
Criticism is: evaluating, making careful judgment, or considering the good and bad.
When we hear words like judgment and evaluating we quickly avoid or claim that no-one should judge. BUT, you make evaluative judgments all day – some toward yourself, some toward others, some toward even more obscure things (e.g. should I drive in the snow when I know it may not be safe).
We all evaluate!
I get it, criticism does not feel good when it’s all negative. This is the type of criticism we avoid – but constructive criticism can be an awesome opportunity when handled carefully.
Is it constructive? The basis of constructive criticism is that it is intended to help and improve and is often accompanied with possible solutions.
Yet, somehow we still get wrapped up in negativity and call it constructive criticism. A person may give a comment using “constructive criticism” as a guise to say whatever they want.
This is not constructive — so do your best to shake it off!
You do not need to soak in all the negativity in the world. Soak in what is good for admonition and building you up.
You do need to become a critical thinker regarding constructive criticism. Evaluate whether what you are hearing is actually all negative or a potential opportunity for growth.
When you reflect on the relationship, you are actually considering whether this is a person you feel comfortable receiving criticism from. Often what is most challenging about criticism is feeling like it’s coming out of nowhere or from someone you don’t trust.
Run these questions through your head:
When I reflect on who the constructive criticism comes from I am often much more open to hearing it. I know past professors and colleagues have wanted me to become the best therapist I can so it was easier to hear their feedback even when it was challenging.
Reflect and consider whether this person is in a position to push you toward your very best self or trying to hurt, undermine, or attack you.
True constructive criticism comes from a place of love.
Sometimes constructive criticism takes time to process. Especially, if the truth in the message tugs at something you’ve been trying to work on or know you are weak at.
Take a deep breath, thank the person, and let them know you’ll need time to process.
Often, when we hear constructive criticism we jump to the defense. We hate the thought of being weak or making a mistake and want to provide justifications. The best thing you can do is give yourself time and space before responding. You’ll be able to think more logically and clearly when you have time to reflect.
But an initial response is key!
If a boss gives you a review, let them know immediately that you appreciate the evaluation and want to take time to think about each thing they said. If a friend is sharing an anecdote about a negative comment you made earlier, let them know you value their thoughts and want space to think about it.
Whatever you do, respond to the person to acknowledge that you appreciate the safety in the relationship and their honesty.
One of the best things about constructive criticism is the ability to grow. Those who are different places of life may have skills, knowledge, or a unique experience we may be lacking in.
If you change your perspective about constructive criticism you begin to soak in the benefits!
It’s rare that others feel comfortable sharing and helping us grow – these are great relationships to have. I am especially thankful for the people in my life who know me well and gently push me. These people are gracious, kind, thoughtful, and careful in how they present criticism – a sign of a great friend.
Take time to process what’s been said. This may be an hour or a week. Do not avoid. Give the comment attention. Think on it and consider whether it may be true (or a new, valuable perspective), and then challenge yourself to grow.
Constructive criticism is not always easy to hear but can be a great opportunity for your personal growth.
1) Discern the criticism,
2) reflect on the relationship,
3) respond, and
4) process and grow.
Lucky you — I gave four tips today!
While I so appreciate you tuning in to learn about constructive criticism and healthy communication, there’s so much more on our little corner of the web that can support you in your most important relationships!
I’m talking about your romantic relationship!
I regularly post resources and information for couples because that’s my sweet spot!
Yep, I’m an expert at couples therapy and I love sharing everything I possibly can to help you grow! In fact, so much of my content is free!
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