How to take criticism well

by Sabina Nawaz

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to run an organization. I was excited about the possibilities ahead of us and the goals we could realize. However, instead of receiving unanimous enthusiasm for what I thought was an exciting vision, some team members found fault with my ideas and judged me personally. They said my agenda was too ambitious and self-serving. Some thought I wasn’t listening to what my constituents wanted. Even though three-quarters of the team supported my vision, I fixated on the quarter that did not. I knew I was generally well-liked because I spent a large portion of my time and energy on pleasing others. The thought that some people didn’t like me felt like a punch in the gut. I lost sleep, couldn’t concentrate, and lost five pounds in one week (not how I wanted to lose those pounds). I started to consider how I could give in to what the naysayers wanted, even though it wasn’t the right thing for the organization.

Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I figured out how to be resilient when being criticized. This enabled me to stand my ground and take actions that benefited the organization, not just my self-worth. Here are the lessons I learned from that experience:

Be prepared; don’t freeze. Criticism is inevitable, especially if we invite diverse perspectives and boldly lay out a big vision. Unfortunately, our response to the disapproval of others may not be entirely within our control.

Calibrate; don’t catastrophize. If it’s very important to you that people like you and your ideas, you may be particularly sensitive to any form of censure. But try to keep things in perspective.

Accumulate; don’t react. If it’s the first time you’ve heard a certain judgment, become curious about the broader picture.

Apply the criticism to your role, not yourself. We often mistake our role for ourselves. We take things personally that are not personal at all; they are a condition of the job we’re in.

Connect with your personal board of directors; don’t isolate yourself.When we’re reeling from criticism, we tend to withdraw from others. Instead, reach out.

Take care of yourself; don’t try to push through. If your colleagues’ comments are particularly painful, it might take a psychological and physiological toll.

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