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Updated: December 2, 2009 16:00 IST

Handling criticism…

AMRITA. P.
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Take it well: Not all criticism is aimed at ridiculing you. Photo:C. Ratheesh kumar
Take it well: Not all criticism is aimed at ridiculing you. Photo:C. Ratheesh kumar

When you pass a comment keep in mind what it may mean for the other person. A closer look at criticism and how to deal with it.

Criticism is disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings. It is a serious examination and the judgement thereof of a person, an object or an event with the purpose of correction. However, criticism is mostly aimed unintentionally or otherwise, at the person or the reason behind a cause or ‘ creation'.

There are only two ways we take criticism badly or worse. Although an emotional appraisal of ‘ criticism' overwhelms us, its aim can be broadly two-fold. It can either aim at evaluation of the ‘ product' of our efforts or our self-esteem. Unfortunately, given the post of a critic, most unwittingly use the latter approach.

Constructive/positive criticism addresses an area that needs improving without speaking to the person himself. In the classroom, when a teacher advises a student how to give up neat work instead of blaming a slackness of character, the student will be more receptive to discipline.

Toxic or negative criticism aims at character assassination. It serves to instil fear at some level. It is likely to leave a person feeling defensive and humiliated since the substance of criticism is aimed at the character, not the work of the author .

Spot the Difference:

A critic is often in a position to exercise efforts to manipulate and damage personal credibility in trying to prove themselves superior. Yet, it may also serve as valuable feedback inadequately expressed. How do we know when criticism serves any purpose?

Is it genuine to begin with?

Is the criticism helpful or mean?

Is it necessary and appropriate?

Check for substance in the assessment.

If evaluation is heavily interspersed with name calling or guilt provocation, it is toxic criticism we're looking at.

Constructive criticism encourages and enhances performance.

Constructive criticism also addresses details that call for a compliment.

Responding to criticism:

Choosing our response to criticism is a matter of perspective.

Any form of criticism may be skimmed for information and be a source of feedback for our efforts.

Accept criticism with grace. Don't counter criticism immediately.

Resist the temptation to prove them wrong or give excuses. lUse your sense of judgment. Ignore criticisms of critical people.

Be open to any significant changes .

Look for new ideas to optimise performance.

Nobody's appraisal is absolute. Listen to criticism. Rephrase what has been said so that it's conveyed that you understood. It calms the critic. It is called the ‘public smile'. Avoid overtly critical people. Never ever internalise criticism.

Not all criticism is bad. We all pass judgments at some point but never imagine ourselves to be at its receiving end. It may leave us feeling overwhelmed and rightly so. In such instances, taking a step back and evaluating ourselves, devoid of any partiality, paints a clearer picture of whom we are and our capabilities.

This internal criticism, an unbiased appraisal of oneself, can be a private reprimand. Seek external criticism/feedback from unbiased people you know well and ask for their assessment. If there is an agreement that the critique directed is unfair, take steps to counter it. Also judge if it is directed because you serve good competition. Look for ways to soften their blows. Never shout back, it deepens the damage. Initially, calmly talking to the ‘critic' when he/she is not distracted, is in a better frame of mind, can help place your views. If no amount of discussion helps, the best thing to do is either nothing at all or to let go.

Amrita is a freelance consultant psychologist.

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