"Critical comments can be like a scalpel cutting to the bone," says Kare Anderson of Say It Better. Like it or not, everyone makes mistakes and poor decisions for which they receive criticism. And many professionals, no matter how hard they work to succeed, waste time with negative self-talk. They hope internal verbal abuse will make them better leaders.
Are We Too Hard on Ourselves?
Sometimes leaders should be hard on themselves, like in the cases of the illegal acts and highly unethical decisions that end up in the media. But people are frequently too hard on themselves about the occasional poor decision, tending to beat themselves up for one bad choice.
As children, we were told "no" more than 35,000 times before we entered kindergarten. Negative statements made by those professing to help us could be devastating. As we grew up, these negative statements made permanent impressions on our psyches. Then, as adults, we restate these negative comments internally any time someone criticizes our work or mentions our flaws. Within a few seconds, an entire lifetime of negativity surfaces, leaving us beaten and battered.
Women vs. Men
Experts say women tend to handle criticism and negativity differently from how men do. In fact, the old adage for businesswomen has been, "Die before cry!" Women tend to take such evaluation in the workplace much more personally. Women actually associate with the pain of a negative situation, while men disassociate from it.
One boss used to tell me to "toughen up," "thicken your skin" and "keep a stiff upper lip." I wasn't too crazy about his advice, but he helped me in my career. As a leader, I don't let criticism bother me so much and can overcome it more quickly.
Handle Criticism Like a Pro
According to Dr. Christina Swart-Opperman, there are three A's to follow when presented with criticism: ask, acknowledge and add. In her bimonthly newsletter she says, "Immediately, your instincts kick in; you're hurt and offended, and you want to strike. Frequently, though, you'll only exacerbate the problem by responding with anger."
She suggests acknowledging the critic with a nod and a word or two to let him know you heard what was said, not that you agree. Don't immediately decide if the criticism is justified, and don't lay blame. Next, ask the critic to listen to your side of the story. The key is to consider the criticism rationally and not emotionally. Show you are willing to listen, and hopefully he will do the same. Finally, add your thoughts, and decide if you agree with the criticism. If you need to apologize, do so.
Some additional ideas to think about:
- Consider whether you need to make some personal changes.
- Say "stop" to yourself when negative self-talk starts.
- View the situation as a stepping-stone instead of a brick wall.
- Learn the lesson and move on. Never dwell on criticism.
- Don't hold grudges. They only hurt you, not the other person.
These steps will help you disassociate from the pain of the criticism and deal with the situation as a professional.
Learn from Your Mistakes
The famous motivator Denis Waitley says, "Don't dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer." Business guru Tom Peters says, "Fail forward." Philosopher Jim Rohn says, "The only way to get more in life is to become more. We all experience criticism. The more we achieve, the more we get. Take a positive view of criticism and, allow it to take you to the next level."
This is sound advice, but refusing to accept personal responsibility for mistakes is the biggest error. Learn from mistakes, and don't get caught in the blame game. Move on, focus on the overall goal, and show your team you're a pro.