Coming face-to-face with your inadequacies can be painful, to say the least. It challenges the way that you believe people see you and even makes you question yourself. Your knee-jerk reaction may be to get defensive or even dismiss the critique entirely. But handling negative feedback with grace and decorum will not only make you look gracious, but it could ultimately help you grow as a person. Here’s how to do it.
Be objective about the criticism
Before you jump to conclusions and begin to challenge the other person’s opinion, take a step back and look at it objectively. “To survive well, we need to know when to protect ourselves from negativity and when to be open and change the criticism into constructive feedback,” explains Yael Benn, PhD, a lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Next time you get a bad review, don’t immediately allow your emotions to get the better of you, but rather, take a moment to consider whether the criticism is at all accurate. Give yourself a chance to really take in the information and evaluate it.
Avoid unnecessary confrontation
If you decide that the point is valid, it may be hard to take. In your discomfort, you may feel the urge to lash out at the other person and defend yourself. But it’s best to avoid getting into an argument. “Let’s say someone told you something that really upsets you, but you realize there may be truth in it. Naturally, if you agree that things should change—it already makes the situation less ‘heated,’ but the pain is still there,” says Dr. Benn. “You do not want to be confrontational, so you must start by saying you see the point, or that you were wrong.” (Watch out for these phrases, which always make situations like this worse.
Be open to the idea of change
Most of us are pretty stubborn. And it may be because of a concept called “cognitive dissonance” that can prevent us from changing even when that’s what we need most. “People have a view of themselves or the world that they only seek to confirm, not adjust or change,” Dr. Benn explains. “They may ignore criticism because they wish to avoid having to change, or because it makes them feel bad, or because they feel it is not helpful.”
If you’re open to using the criticism as a springboard to improvement, you will likely need more information. The initial moment you hear the criticism may not be the best time to ask for more details. Your emotions will be riding high, and you may not be particularly receptive to extra information. However, when you feel ready, it could be worth revisiting the subject with the person who criticized you. “If you believe the criticism is coming from a supportive place, rather than from a jealous or other negative place, then it’s good to ask for details,” says Dr. Benn. “Engage with the person who criticized you, asking what you can do differently or how you can do better.” Even if you don’t agree with their advice, thank them and promise to consider it.