Carping criticism can be hard to handle at times. Especially when you have put in efforts with a lot of sincerity. It can be disheartening when it comes from people you respect, admire and also from people you love. And when it comes from those who aren't having your best interests at heart, criticism can often feel brutal and agonizing.
Both the anticipation and aftermath of criticism can be nerve-wracking for many among us. We’re wired to experience intense emotions in these situations.
- Fear of being branded as a failure, and having to cope with ignominy
- Hurt & sadness at not getting acknowledged for the efforts made. People may also feel that their very identity, image and self-worth are being threatened.
- Anger at perceived (and maybe real) lack of fairness, or even a sense of being exploited. This may even lead to unbridled rage and fury later.
- Guilt at (maybe) not having done enough to avoid the situation!
- Hopelessness and a gnawing sense of defeat. This of course is particularly hard to deal with.
Life is such that we cannot totally avoid criticism even in the best of times. You might think your plans are foolproof. You’ve spared no effort to ensure there is flawless execution. Lot of things may have gone right too. But alas… All it takes is a few missteps, and overnight it appears you’re sitting duck!
Poor coping and response mechanisms to criticism is a big problem. Of course, there is the (obvious) emotional churn, and the immediate impact at the level of self-esteem and relationships. But, there can be many other forms of damage too.
A note about Fear of Criticism
- Anticipation of criticism for instance, isn't bad per se.
- It can act as a motivation to go the extra mile and get better results.
- But, the fear of criticism can also lead to dysfunctional behavior, like playing too safe, or even manipulative behaviours at times.
Not all of the fear is irrational either. There can be serious consequences at times, and the emotional damage is only one small aspect. Career damage, monetary losses, and much more can happen to totally throw life out of gear…
So, when we look at strengthening our coping mechanisms, it is not possible to have rules and strategies that will work all the time. A few pointers are shared in this article. See how they can be related to your particular context.
A Self Efficacy Driven Model
Taking criticism as an attack on your being can make the recovery tougher.
It is natural to look for validation from others during such weak moments. It’s of course great if you have a robust social support to bank on. But don't wait for the external validation. This is perhaps an opportunity to seek that validation internally. And at times, we may also have to accept to ourselves that we may have goofed up, and that we’re not perfect. The trick is to accept the fact, and simultaneously “shrug it off”, with a “So what?”!
A Wide-Angle View
Even as you acknowledge the missteps and mistakes, it is good to take a wide angle view! Do take notice (yourself to begin with) of what went well and whatever was done right. A balanced view helps you to regain your composure. This composure is right now in short supply. You need to fill the tank before it is completely emptied out. You need the right focus to work your way out of the current situation, after all.
Don't get trapped in the tyranny of labels. Sometimes, these are gifted by others. Often, we assume these labels ourselves. "I am not good enough, I am careless... ". Frankly, they don't serve any purpose. And if you've started liking that sense of victimhood, nobody can help you out of this situation!
Mental Games are okay, sometimes!
Yes, this is a mental game with yourself. Actually, the biggest battlefield is inside you right now. If you need to clutch on to the straws, so be it. It’s not your job to prove your cynics right! Spot the silver lining, the blessing in disguise… anything that helps you regain your composure in the short term, anything…Do deep breathing, walk around, drink water, eat superfoods for the brain. Soon, you've got to fire on all cylinders.
And of course, don't get stuck here. It’s time to use this little energy to start moving.
Take a Resource Based View for the way out + Candour:
What resources, competencies and support will help you move forward? Analyze the situation with a systems view diagram if needed. Look objectively at the outcomes, and the reality of the current situation. What inputs will take you to the outcome?
This is the time for brutal candor to yourself and with others. Not the time for mental games! So, generously make a note of limitations and constraints. But, with an extra question mark, so that you can figure out ways to work around them.
Special Tip! Avoid the perfection trap. So many have fallen by the wayside by getting hooked on to the lure of excess perfection. Also avoid the urge to "somehow fix for the time being"! Follow Stephen Covey's Importance/Urgency Matrix where feasible. Gives you a sense of perspective that's vital at this stage.
Momentum starts the Moment you Shake off the Inertia
This is also a time to slowly re-build your confidence by choosing to embrace a sense of achievement. By achievement I don't mean the “crowning-glory-flashbulb-moments”. At this stage, if you can reframe even a minor step forward as a “victory” in your mind, you’ll do yourself a big favor. Yes, you've got to aggressively court the micro-wins at this stage.
So, you might need to talk to someone, checkout information on the net, learn something new… At this stage, take up some activity that will give you a sense of achievement, howsoever piffling it appears to be. This feeling of achievement is like life-giving oxygen now. Each win adds a small bit of extra confidence that more can get done! And that is worth its weight in gold.
The particular action may not mean much in the larger scheme of things. Staying stuck and feeling hopeless is also an option. And that can certainly “mean a lot” in the larger scheme of things!
This is the time to use pen and paper, and prepare “boring” lists of mini-actions and steps. The very act of preparing such a plan itself helps to divert you from the negative emotions. And each item that gets ticked off serves to raise your spirits higher bit by bit. If you have a friend who’s struggling in a crisis, help them make this plan, and support them in tracking too. That’s the greatest help you can do!
And of course, keep looking for more opportunities to make these micro-wins.
Teflon Coating is good at times!
Now, while you’ve got yourself busy chasing micro-wins, it isn't like being in a picture-perfect scene. There may still be a lot of criticism that’s coming your way. Some people like to drive home the same point in different ways, with innovative phrases, buzz words, confusing jargon and more repeated ad nauseum. They get a certain vicarious thrill from throwing their weight around. Life’s like that.
You have your plan of micro-wins, and you’re working on it. Perhaps there’s nothing much that you can do beyond that.
Time to make a powerful intention to yourself! These “pain-in-the-neck” obnoxious folks can’t be allowed to set the clock back. And that’s non-negotiable.
So, develop a thick skin if that’s the need of the hour. Acknowledge the criticism, but don't pay too much heed. Unless their criticism is helpful enough to alert you to certain things you may have overlooked. In the latter case, cut out the remaining part of the criticism, what I call the “background noise”. Take the valid points, and create some micro-win actions from them if possible. Teflon coated vessels may not be all that good for health. But a teflon coated thick skin can be good at times!
You may need to sometimes update the progress in the situation to these “drama-queen” critics. This is when all your composure needs to be kept intact. Stick to the facts, and convey the message in a cool matter-of-fact way. Don't oblige them by going off-course. Stand your ground with unmatched dignity. Not everyone can do it!
Frankly, it is in moments like these that you start winning over yourself! These are the real turning points. And you’ll remember them with pride, long after it is all done and dusted! And before you know it, you’re ready to embrace more challenges.
You have arrived!