How To Handle Criticism

When Holly and I drove to North Carolina last summer, we talked for a solid eight hours. We didn’t know each other before meeting at 4am that morning, so we found plenty to talk about. Then we spent four days at the Wild Goose Festival, and talked for another solid eight hours home. We built enough material in that one road trip to fuel this blog for years (including the fact that we both love to include extraneous details in story telling that are vitally important to no one but us.).

At one point, we talked about our approaches to conflicts. Specifically, how we respond to criticism.

In the past, I tended to take criticism extremely personally. Criticism felt like an attack on my character, my very being. Since I already lived with thoughts such as, “you’re not good enough”, and “it’s all my fault”, when someone affirmed those thoughts out loud, I felt like the scum of the earth (perhaps an exaggeration, but only slight).

As I’ve matured, I’ve learned how to sift healthy versus unhealthy criticisms. For example, criticism from my best friend, I usually listen to. Criticism from someone I’ve never met, well, they’re probably just having a bad day.

Holly passed down a helpful tool, that I now pass on to you.

When faced with criticism, I shift my thinking into “neutral”.

I take the emotion out of the situation, and look at it from as neutral a perspective as I can.

I consider:

  1. the specific situation

  2. the character of the personal approaching me

  3. the level of relationship I have with that person

  4. where the truth is

  5. Is this something I should listen to, respectfully ignore, or boldly disagree with?

Often, a negative critique has more to do with what’s happening in the life of the other person, than it does with me.

Or maybe there’s a communication mix-up, and the relationship can be strengthened if we both pause, step back, and thoroughly explain our perspectives.

That one piece of advice changed my level of confidence. Sorting through the lies I hear every day can feel like weaving through Los Angeles rush hour traffic. Shifting my thoughts into neutral thins out the traffic, so to speak. I arrive at my destination on time, and in one piece.

Although, I don’t think that trick works in actual L.A. traffic.


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