Feeling under fire? Use these six simple tips to help you handle those harsh remarks
These days, it seems everyone has an opinion, and none of us can avoid criticism.
From how you raise your children, to what you eat or how you dress, people will always have something to say about the decisions you make.
How we handle those negative comments can have a huge impact not only on our relationships with others, but also on our own mental health.
Here, chartered psychologist and women’s leadership coach, Jess Baker, explains the best course of action to take when you’re feeling under attack.
Jess says: ‘It’s easy to get defensive when someone judges what you say or do. Your initial reaction might be to snap back — or perhaps you take it to heart and spend days worrying about why the person would say such a horrible thing.
‘However, the first thing you should do is to try to understand the intentions of the person delivering it. Are they trying to help you, look out for your safety or prevent you from making the same mistakes as them? Or, do they just not like you? By knowing the difference between destructive and constructive criticism, you’ll be better armed to know how to deal with it.’
See it as feedback
Jess explains: ‘Although nobody enjoys criticism, it can be a crucial part of personal growth, pushing us to do and achieve more. So turn critical comments on their head and use them to your advantage. If your boss criticises a piece of work, instead of wasting your energy worrying about it, feel flattered that they are investing time to help you to improve.
‘If a friend tells you that you’ve done something to upset them, take it as a compliment that they’re trying to clear the air because of how much you mean to them.’
Jess says: ‘Even though it can be difficult, we should respond respectfully and calmly. Thank the person for sharing their opinion and ask them why they think this way. By starting a discussion, you might learn something new about them or the motive behind the comment. It also gives you the opportunity to explain where you’re coming from.
‘If this doesn’t work, politely explain that you don’t agree with their view, but that you have listened to it, then leave it there. As important as it is to know when to value criticism, it’s also worth knowing when to disregard it and not engage.’
Ask yourself: Is this really about me?
Jess explains: ‘If someone suddenly starts criticising you, take a moment to consider why they’re acting this way.
‘For example, if your mother-in-law is constantly putting you down, it might be a symptom of a larger issue that she is dealing with. Perhaps she feels disconnected from her son and is taking her frustrations out on you. If your friend is snappy, perhaps they are feeling stressed or anxious about something.
‘Instead of getting upset, you could just say: “Are you OK?”
‘This gives them the opportunity to acknowledge their behaviour and you the chance to turn the whole situation around and help them to feel better.’
Use your allies
Jess explains: ‘We all need cheerleaders — people who are on our side, to support us no matter what. By having a tight network we can turn to, we can take criticism less to heart and feel better understood. Making a joke of the criticism with friends will quickly help the remark to lose its power.’
Put it into perspective
Jess says: ‘Ask yourself: “Is the comment that I’m upset about really that important in the great scheme of my life?” Remind yourself that the criticism you’ve received is just about one thing and often only represents one person’s view. It does not define you, so don’t let it hold you back. Ultimately, the very best thing you can do with criticism is to grow from it.’
Edited by Stephanie May