No one likes getting criticized. Some handle it better than others, but deep-down we all tolerate it at best like we do a dental cleaning.
Many even have a fear of criticism, which can be as difficult as overcoming a fear of failure or conquering a fear of change.
But it’s a fact of life and in fact can become debilitating.
And the problem is that our wiring works against us in handling criticism.
Theater critic Albert Williams lends insight here. He was asked why film and theater critics do what they do and responded:
“Critics believe the creators of the art really want feedback, of any kind. They see their role as a teacher, and teachers challenge the material they’re discussing. They see themselves as reporters, boosters, and skeptics, all to create better art.“
Do we view our own critics the same way–as trying to create better art in the form of a better version of ourselves?
Odds are, no.
Instead, we’re more likely to fear their observations. And our brain is wired to not only feel but dwell on this fear. Studies show we’re four times more likely to remember negative criticism then praise (true even among happy people) and that bad feedback is processed more thoroughly than good.
Psychology research shows that it takes our brain experiencing five positive events to make up for the psychological effect of just one negative event.
So, indeed, our wiring works against us with criticism.
But you can overcome a fear of criticism in six ways:
1. First, decide who gets to criticize you.
Not all criticizers are created equal, and some shouldn’t even get a seat at the table. Set criteria for those who make the cut, and mentally dismiss the rest.
2. Know that anything worth doing attracts admiration and criticism.
Would you rather be judged or ignored? These are the consequences of life’s great binary choice–whether to make a difference or not. Faced with this decision, surely taking on some criticism seems acceptable in comparison. If you want to “dent the universe”, as Steve Jobs once challenged, you’re going to take dents in your armor here and there.
No one said it was fair.
In fact, what others risk by criticizing is minuscule compared to what you risk by putting yourself out there (internet trolls I’m looking at you). But don’t let that stop you–ever.
3. Avoid avoidance.
A strategy of avoiding criticism is more damaging than you think. Aristotle said, “There’s only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Avoiding criticism is what makes you weaker, not the criticism itself, and such avoidance means you’re withholding your gifts.
Consider what’s constructive about criticism, find the nugget of truth in it, and let it inspire higher standards. Don’t think of it as exposing flaws or rejection but instead as helping you make new self-discoveries.
Let criticism feed you, not your insecurities.
5. If you can’t control the sting, keep it from swelling.
That moment we’re receiving criticism can sting. How you react from there on can mean the difference between that sting persisting and swelling, or quickly abating. The key is not to get over emotional or overreact. The vast majority of the time criticism is not meant to be a personal attack–it’s not about you, it’s about your work or behavior.
Most importantly, you control the pain from criticism. You can’t change the words that were spoken to you, but you can change the meaning you give them. You can rise above any words. (Except, “We’re out of chocolate cake.”)
6. Stay focused on the conclusion, not the criticism.
When you keep what you’re trying to accomplish in front of you, you’ll speed through the sidebar of criticism. Racecar driver Mario Andretti said this of the secret to his success in the sport: “Don’t look at the wall. Your car goes where your eyes go.”
Same with how we handle criticism.
Take your eyes off the road ahead/what you’re trying to achieve and instead focus on the surrounding walls of criticism and you’ll steer right into those walls–perhaps attracting the very criticism you feared in the first place.
Net, our fear of criticism can be beat down so you don’t have to view critical words as a beat-down.
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