Let me just get this point out of the way: criticism in any forms sucks almost as bad as jumping from a hot tub into an ice bath. I think we all agree there.
A quick note on doling out criticism. My friend Mark recently said it very well; “If you want to criticize then you should probably not, just bite your tongue. If you really truly dread the idea but feel like you have no choice with your friend, then you should stop and consider your words very carefully. Only then do you proceed with great care and caution.”
The unfortunate truth is that you will experience some form of criticism many times in your life; it may be constructive (meant to help you improve), destructive (meant to tear you down), or self-criticism. In the case of the first it is often uncomfortable, difficult, and often unsolicited. This advice will hold true in this case. In the case of destructive criticism, this advice will also hold true. Neither will be pleasant. In the case of self-criticism, pay attention to the first part of this particularly. Remember that you are your harshest critic so handle yourself with some perspective.
1. Know yourself.
You have to have faith and belief in yourself. Know who you are. Know what value you have to bring to the table. This is the foundation of this entire process. You must become confident in who you are. Recognize that you bring value to the table. Your self-esteem is important because if you cannot believe in yourself you will flounder in the winds of life. If you are struggling with this then you need to go back to our very first podcast “Stand On A Rock” and start there.
I am not going to tell you that you are some unique snowflake, save that crap for therapy. I will say that there is only one you and therefore you alone are unique in what you have taken from every situation. You and I could go through the exact same scenario and have two completely different experiences. That is the power of being an individual. I am the product of the influences in my life and how I have chosen to react to them. You have a perspective that might be similar to someone else’s, but might have that one piece that pulls it all together because you experienced it from your perspective.
2. Know who is Talking to You.
The person offering the criticism will tell you the majority of what you need to know to handle the situation. If a stranger is criticizing you then who really gives a flying sack of monkey crap what they say? Why are you even listening?
If it is someone with a relationship to you then what is that relationship? If it is a person who outranks you at work or a peer, be polite but keep perspective. They may “outrank” you, like a boss or a superior officer; listen with the appropriate respect. You will have to evaluate their intent from tone, the situation, previous experience with them, and their experience.
If they are a manager, are they just an admin or do they know how to do what you do? Have you interacted constructively in the past? Do you have a positive work relationship? How are they speaking to you? Where are they speaking to you?
If it is someone closer, a family member or friend then you have the same basic evaluation. What is your relationship with them? What is your previous experience with them? How are they speaking to you?
3. Know where you are.
Situational awareness is a must at all times. In the case of criticism it can be key. Someone with good intentions will rarely put you in a compromised situation. If you are surrounded by a bunch of people like at a party or in a crowded area, you are probably a punch line and someone is trying to look impressive to others.
Constructive criticism is usually intended to help you improve something, not embarrass or berate you, so it is usually done in quiet or private.
4. You are Still in Control.
One of the most important lessons my father ever taught me was this.
“No one can make you feel any way that you do not want to.”
No one can make you react any way that you do not choose; just because they are fishing does not mean you have to take the bait. Sure, people will try to get a reaction, but they only win when you react differently than you would want. If they don’t get a rise out of you then they look like an ass trying to start a fight as long as you play it off cool. Let them simmer on looking bad and you choose to win the moment by maintaining your control and composure.
You always have a choice how you react. Men control their emotions, you have them the same as everyone else. One of the things that sets you apart as a man, is the ability to master that emotion and express it in healthy ways with control. Even when it is hard.
Check out our blog Men and Emotions, Experience versus Expression for more on that or our podcast "Is it Toxic Masculinity or Immaturity or is that the Same Thing? Men V. Boys"
5. Take the Lesson
In every moment and event there is an opportunity to grow; I truly believe that. I did an entire podcast on “5 Things I Learned From GoT” because while I cannot say everyone should watch such a graphic show, I still learned some things from it.
Whether it’s constructive or another type of criticism, you will learn something. It may be finding out who has negative intentions towards you. It may be learning how someone really feels about you. It may be discovering who is actually your friend. It may be an improvement to add to your life. There are a lot of possibilities. So, take the lesson and let it make you stronger and better because of what you do with it.
Even in an unpleasant situation with negative, ill intended criticism; smile and bow out with grace. I would like to pretend that I am saying that because it is the moral high ground; I’m not. If you do it right, you look like a boss and it is like smacking someone in the face if they are being nasty. Do not let them win the moment, but be grateful for the lesson and the clarity on where you stand.
When you take all 5 steps you have a process that is time and mileage tested. This one was easy for me to write because I have been using this method in my daily life as long as I can
I have smiled in the face of a superior officer as he signed the death warrant on my military career (which he had promised to do the day I met him).
I lost a job based on the metric that I had twice the mistakes of anyone else on the team. When I showed my boss the documentation that proved I was literally doing twice the work as anyone else, he said, “doesn’t matter.” I thanked him for firing me. Thanked him for freeing me because I was too comfortable to leave and seek better employment (your paycheck is a leash).
I lost a job because I did exactly what they paid me to do, but the people who asked me to do
so did not like the results of that because it showed their faults. These were people I trusted and thought cared about me.
I am better and stronger because of it. I smiled each time because I would not let them have the day.
You are in control of you. Believe in yourself, process who is involved along with information like where you are, and what their connection is to you. Decide how to react and take the lesson. It may suck but you will be better for it.
The Fallible Man
Be better tomorrow because of what you do today.
For more on this check out our Podcast Episode on all podcast platforms or on YouTube.