“If you keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you” is a line from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.” There are probably many of us who can identify with the words and understand the frustration of being misunderstood or unfairly judged.
Almost every day either we or someone we love experience this frustration. Faced with being misunderstood we respond. How we respond is according to the poem, the measure of our manhood (equally woman hood). Learning how to respond to criticism and to deal with the negative things people say to us is a step of maturity and personal development.
Criticism is an attack on our self esteem and our defensive attitude is the way we try to protect our self from a painful experience. Just as we put up our hands to prevent ourselves being physically hurt, we put up our defensive attitude to prevent emotional or mental health.
This defensive attitude may either take on an apologetic attitude. We make apologies for our behavior or those of others, or it may take on an attacking attitude, where we tend to look for ways of blaming others for the situation so we can share the blame and perhaps take some of the heat off our role in the situation.
What are some positive ways we can respond to criticism so that the negative reaction we instinctively feel can become something positive in our life and a tool for self development and personal maturity?
- Look on any incident of criticism. As an opportunity for learning and self growth not as an attack on your self-esteem.
- Much of the anger that eventuates from criticism has the risk of becoming a grudge against the person delivering the criticism that creates its own set of problems. Make a determined effort to forgive the person who has given the criticism and actively seek to work with them to negotiate a solution you are both satisfied with.
- When you are receive criticism try to take a step back before you respond. Thank them for their words and tell them you will consider what they have said to you and discuss it with them on another occasion. This approach enables both of you to calm your emotions and to discuss the situation later when you both have had chance to think about it.
- Think about the criticism; ask yourself if it is justified. If it is, then seek ways to prevent the situation recurring and, if it is not, take steps to refute it calmly and preferably with evidence.
- Don’t dwell on the criticism but move on. Your value is not determined by one piece of criticism.