How To Handle Criticism With Dignity

Lucid Leadership by Rowan B. Colver

You work harder than anyone can fully appreciate, the thinking time with the research and preparation all count as invisible hours. So after pouring out buckets of energy on something you worked hard on, to be criticised instead of applauded can be very painful. To be given the cold shoulder when you’ve made a real effort can be a real form of rejection. No one likes to be rejected, it puts a stop to our story in which everything is how we want it. It can make us feel angry and bitter because we’ve sacrificed a lot of time and energy along with a focus of our will in order to present what we have. It’s not the end of the line, and criticism can be used properly. It might feel like an attack, because we are attached to our product, and so we need to shield ourselves from the sharp end of their spear.

Everyone has different tastes, there are foods you love to eat that other people don’t eat at all. They don’t like it. This means they will criticise the taste of your favourite food and be totally accurate in doing so, but you and they are different enough to have totally true opposing perspectives. Your work can be like this, with the reason it’s being criticised is a matter of taste. If a person explains they don’t like a particular thing about your work, you can decide if you agree with their diagnosis or if in fact, you love that part of it. Criticism doesn’t have to be listened to in this case, just bear it in mind for who you try and sell to.

Feedback is an essential part of the design process. We need to know what other people think about our product or idea because it is those same people we are selling it to. If you want your idea or gadget to be used and to build rewards for you then people have to use it in the way it is supposed to be used. Feedback helps us to design something that is successful. Criticism is a form of feedback, it’s only when we don’t expect it or when it’s particularly deep that it can get in the way. Being able to hold your own esteem when a person is picking apart your pride and joy is a matter of perspective. Keep in mind they are just one person and their tastes and perspectives are not your compass. It’s just a section on the map.

Learning to be sensitive to the nuances in what people say can help us get things right faster. If our idea is good and yet individuals feel there is something not right, it might be easy to just listen to the first bit they say. If it can be rewarding for you to hear the other bits and not the positives, we can actually get a much better design in the long run. Essentially, we need to know what parts people like so we can keep them but it is the imperfections that matter most. If we can create a universally acceptable product through listening and subtle changes, the end result will be that much more usable.

Often we have ourselves wrapped up in a bunch of ideas about ourselves and the work we do. This comfort blanket keeps us confident and allows us to cope with the world. When a person criticises us, the comfort blanket is torn away. The thoughts we have about ourselves being talented and successful people are rejected and that makes us feel vulnerable and decloaked. If we are looking for validation then we need to turn to loved ones. The general public is not going to be as considerate and you need to be able to distance your self-worth from the situation. It’s not about you or your sense of identity, it’s just about the person you are speaking to and your idea. You are just the conduit for this exchange of information.

A good way to get to the bottom of hurtful and frightening feedback is to ask them to expand on it. Isolate the cutting remarks and repeat them, ask if they can tell you more about this perspective. A lot of times, when a person hears their phrase said back to them, they want to adjust it or explain what they mean. But if you can ask them to do it as well, probe and question the opinion without feeling defensive, you will probably get a much more wholesome and helpful response. Once you can appreciate what a person is saying in a genuine light, you can decide if it’s something you feel is necessary for your work. The suggestion and feedback might simply be the equivalent of a fish teaching a cat how to pounce. It might be really useful and insightful as well. Learning to not put your personal sense of worth into the equation takes practice, and you have to switch off from the energy that flies in your direction. The affirmations can blind you to the negatives and the criticisms can demotivate you entirely. Take each point on its own merit and appreciate the context in which it is being made, ask for more information if you can, then decide if you’ve been given a golden coin or a rusty spoon.

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Music writer and humanities educator from Sheffield in England. Democracy of philosophy, comments are welcome. ko-fi.com/rowanblaircolver

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Rowan Blair Colver

Rowan Blair Colver

Music writer and humanities educator from Sheffield in England. Democracy of philosophy, comments are welcome. ko-fi.com/rowanblaircolver

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