How to Handle Criticism

by Michael Corthell

In my series on phobias I found much evidence to support my belief that the fear of poverty was far and away the number one fear for people. But another fear is right up there too, and it is one that will hold you back, and keep you from finding success. It will also cause you endless worry — if you let it. It is the fear of being unjustly(or justly) criticized — having to stand there and hear those judgmental words streaming out of someone’s mouth and then feeling stupid, rejected or even depressed.

''The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.''
– Norman Vincent Peale

How to handling it? I'll use myself and how I handle email as an example this time.

I get quite a lot of email feedback from the people who read what I write and publish(or re-post). Much of it is positive and supportive. But there is also much criticism, and even nasty or ignorant attacks. It can be hurtful and ego damaging. But that is just part of living a public life.

Here are a few steps that I run through when I get an email that is critical of the stories I report, my views or is attacking me personally.

Sit on it, don’t reply, at least not right away. It is very easy to become pissed off, and angry or even defensive when you receive a critical email, especially from someone who obviously has read all of an article. Don't fire off an answer right away, you don’t want to make the situation worse. Give yourself time to craft a thoughtful, and even helpful reply.

Really listen closely to the criticism, even if it is morally or politically judgmental. Instead of attacking the other person for his or her words — fighting fire with fire, and building a contentious atmosphere, try to bring civility to the conversation. Always remain level-headed, open and figure out how this message can help you. Think: Can I learn something from this criticism? Is this something that I do not want to hear but that could help me to improve?

Know that some criticism isn't about you(in fact much of it isn't). When you bring up highly charged issues like I do (and that includes positive ones), they can sometimes trigger strong emotions especially in people who have trouble thinking positive or are having a bad day. I try to be understanding.  this person may not be feeling too great about themselves right now and is overreacting or just needs to vent. It then becomes easier for me to just let these messages go instead of going off the rails myself.

Reply or just let go. If you reply then try a few follow up questions (only if you think that may help you and your critic). You can ask a few open-ended questions to get more constructive feed-back.
For example: ''What part of it did you not like or did you not find helpful?'' and ''How can I improve it?'' Before I type the first word in response, I fix myself in a positive frame of mind. Many times I get a very thoughtful and constructive email back, but if I don't the discussion is terminated.

Always keep yourself in balance. In fact that is one of the secrets to a stress-free life. Just know and understand that some people are critical by nature and do not always realize that they are hurting the feelings of another person. You know many people who are critical of everything. Try your best not to take their comments too seriously, because you know that it is just part of their character. If you do take negative comments to heart it can create resentment and anger. Stay positive, always, and either accept the criticism you receive as constructive(and use it) or let it roll right off your back.

About Criticism
by Jane Simmons

Jane Simmons Jane is a Sydney Drama teacher and is the once-but-no-longer-anonymous author of a controversial blog called "Shit On Your Play" that promotes stronger theatre criticism in Australia, a response to critics "rewarding the attempt and not the actual production" - thats a quote from her first ever blog post, of which there are now nearly 100. This aggravated so many, in fact, that one year ago she was outed by the media as the blog's author, to the shock of her students.