What should we do when others criticize us?

26 March, 2018

It’s inherent for human beings to make mistakes. We all do it. But we can learn from them and do things better. In order to do this, we first have to be aware of what we have done wrong. This is not always as easy as we think. Sometimes we don’t realize the mistakes we’ve made, whereas other people do. Criticism is something that can help us with this.

When someone criticizes us then they are trying to make us aware of something they don’t like about us, or something we have done that they didn’t like. These suggestions may or may not be realistic or even truthful. We may or may not want to change what they are telling us about, even if it is true. Keep reading to find out what we can do with people’s criticisms.

“Unfortunately half of the things they say about me are true”

-Amy Winehouse-

How should I respond to criticism?

Criticism usually has a negative effect on us. We tend to think that the other person is trying to hurt us with their comments. And yet we can actually use their suggestions to make improvements in our lives. We can view criticism as a means for others to let us know things we have done or said that they haven’t liked.

In the same way that it is important to learn strategies to react in the best possible way to criticism and it is also important to carry out these strategies properly. In this way, we will be able to do everything we possibly can to avoid confrontation, misunderstandings or any other types of problems in our relationships with other people.

“Criticism isn’t pleasant, but it is necessary”

-Winston Churchill-

Two men talking by the sea

The truth of the matter is that it is really hard for us to know how to react when people tell us something that we should improve in our lives. Since nobody is perfect, we’ll find ourselves having to examine different parts of our lives when people make these suggestions.

Decide if the criticism is valid

The first thing we’ll need to decide is if the criticism people are making of us is valid or not. We’ll have to decide whether we actually want to improve that aspect of our life or not. If we think someone is making valid criticism then we’ll need to find out exactly what it is that they’re trying to tell us. We’ll need to ask questions to see if the criticism has any foundation to it.

Some of the questions could be:

  • What are you actually referring to?

  • In what way have you seen it in me?

  • When or where has it happened?

What can we do with valid criticism?

We are now going to differentiate between criticism that is valid and that that isn’t. We’ll be able to see what is constructive and what is destructive. How should we react when we come face to face with the former, with things that turn out to be true? Even if they are true, we often don’t know how to handle them.

Couple talking

The first step is to accept this type of criticism without trying to justify our behavior. Once we’ve done this, we’ll have to decide if we want to change the way we have been acting or not, as difficult as this may be for us.

If we do want to change, then we must tell the other person. It’s enough to say something along the lines of “You’re right, it won’t happen again”. However, if the other person keeps going on about what we’ve done then they’ve got the scratched record syndrome…repeating the same thing over and over again without wanting to really talk about it.

“Do whatever you feel in your heart you should do because you’ll be criticized anyway. They’ll criticize you whatever you do!”

-Eleanor Roosevelt-

There’ll be other situations where we’ll find it difficult, or even impossible, to change. If this is the case then we’ll have to explain to the other person that it’ll be very difficult for us to change, and we can ask them to help us or to offer alternative solutions. In this way, the other person will empathize with us. Putting ourselves on the defensive, however, is going to increase the tension between both parties.

Finally, even if the criticism is valid, we do not have to want to change. We can admit that the person is right and then propose other alternatives to attempt to improve the situation, and chat about these in order to try and avoid a conflict.

How should we react when criticism isn´t true?

On other occasions we know that the criticism is not at all true or valid. If we don’t handle the situation correctly, it will be very easy for us to get into arguments that are never going to go anywhere. It is important, therefore, that we put two other assertive techniques into practice together. The two we suggest are the “fog bank” together with the “ambiguous answer”.

The fog bank consists of acknowledging part of the other person’s argument, but at the same time not losing our position. You could, for example, tell them, “I quite understand that you feel you’re not important to me when I don’t answer your messages”.

Couple talking

In this way we show we understand the other person without giving up our way of seeing things. We can then offer an ambiguous answer, such as “I’ll think about it” or “I’ll keep it in mind”. In this way we can reach a partial agreement with the other person.

These techniques, then, are tools to take into account in all our relationships, whether with friends, family, colleagues or our partner. Reacting in a calm, understanding way when people suggest that we should change will considerably reduce the chances of ending up in a confrontation with the other person. Even when the comments they have made don’t concern us or we consider them false.