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How to Handle Criticism

by Kim Ades October 3, 2014

When someone criticizes you, it’s easy to get emotionally triggered and to respond in ways that are not ideal. It’s easy to let someone push your buttons. But the truth is, the button control is actually in your hands.

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Last month, I spoke with a referral who was interested in licensing out my online journaling software, JournalEngine™.

Usually when one gets a referral, there is a high degree of warmth in the exchange, based on the premise that there is a common connection and an intrinsic motivation to acknowledge that relationship. When I connected with this particular referral, warmth was NOT on the agenda.

As soon as I got on the phone with her, she said, “I took a look at the screenshots of some of the sites that you have running with JournalEngine™ and there’s something I really don’t like about your software.”

I’d be lying if I said that my back wasn’t up instantly. I definitely began to tense up and I braced myself for what was coming next. I did a quick mental check and replied, “Please, tell me what you don’t like.”

“I don’t understand why your site banners are not flush with the navigation bar,” she said. “It’s completely unaligned.”

I went to take a look for myself. I had never noticed this discrepancy. I have been working with the site intimately for years and never saw the misalignment. She was right – it WAS misaligned! “Wow, thank you for pointing that out,” was my response. “You have a great eye! I will ask my programmers about it.”

She started to warm up. As it turned out, she knew two other people whom she felt might benefit from using JournalEngine™. Before our call was done, she went onto our site and signed up as an affiliate. She left the call eager to arrange a follow-up meeting.

On my drive home, I thought about our conversation. I thought about her immediate attack and all the ways I could have responded. I thought about my knee-jerk urge to defend and counter-attack and how I held off. And I thought about all those other conversations in the world that don’t quite turn out this way.

So what do you do when someone criticizes you? Here are a few quick tips:

1. Recognize the signs
Feel your body tense up and your anger rise. Use these signals as an indicator that your buttons are being pushed. Recognition is half the battle. When you can see what’s coming your way, you are in a stronger position to make a decision about how to respond.

2. Take a step back
When you feel like you are being attacked by someone, refrain from an instant response. Take a moment to do a mental check and breathe. Once you can view your situation at arm’s length, you are more likely to act and speak with logic instead of impulse.

3. Assume positive intent
Even if the words sound aggressive, assume that the other person is just trying to help. This will remove the sting and allow you to be open to their feedback. Criticism is not always intended to be harsh. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the other person is out to get you, explore the alternative.

4. Know the difference between winning and benefiting
In the situation described above, did I win the argument? No – but I certainly gained a lot. Make sure that your conversations are focused on what you walk away with rather than on what you win. No matter what the conversation is about, position yourself to benefit and be prepared to uncover the true gift in the exchange, even if it feels tense at the outset.

Learn how to embrace feedback and criticism. Take the Frame of Mind Assessment and receive a complimentary coaching call with one of our highly experienced coaches.

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