There’s no way around it —criticism hurts. It doesn’t matter if it was warranted or not, from whom it came or how pointed it was delivered (or not), it’s just not fun. I’m not here to tell you that you should love it, but I can help you not let it damage your self-love and self-confidence. And If you’re in business in any form, you can’t afford to let your self-confidence be assaulted; it’s hard enough to succeed when you’re brimming with confidence.
In conducting scores of interviews for Find the Fire I learned of many methods for handling criticism. The most effective are the most emotionally intelligent. A high EQ approach is critical to dealing with criticism because it’s all about getting your emotions to work for you instead of against you. When your self-confidence plummets in the face of criticism, it’s usually your emotions leading you down.
So I share here the best, most emotionally intelligent of methods for keeping criticism from crushing your confidence.
1. Stop your first reaction in its tracks.
It’s human nature to feel your hackles rising in the moment you’re receiving criticism. The key is to not let that feeling sustain beyond inception. No good can come from an emotional reaction to criticism.
To prevent this from happening, imagine a camera in the corner of the room filming your reaction as you’re receiving criticism. You’d blush if you watched a replay of that person (you) getting visibly irked by the critical words being spoken. Cut that unhelpful reaction off at the knees.
2. Focus on the feedback, not the bite.
Think of criticism as poorly delivered friendly feedback. If a friend put his or her arm around you and gave you properly couched (but direct) feedback on something that would help you grow, it would be a lot more welcome. Even if it hurts a little in that scenario, you know it helps. So find the nugget of helpful feedback, the grain of truth, in the criticism and build from there.
Here’s a trick to help you do this: recall when criticism helped an outcome in the past. Pause and think of the last time you received warranted criticism. The odds are, if you’re honest, it helped you improve in some way.
3. Consider the intent of the criticism.
This is one of the hardest things to do when you feel your emotions escalating in the face of criticism. But it may be the most important step you can take. It’s critical not to take the criticism personal. You can weed out the unhelpful bits and focus on number two above, the thread that is intended by the giver to be useful to you.
If the intent of the criticism is truly malicious, know this: you can’t change the words that were spoken to you, but you can change the meaning you give them.
4. Remember that criticism hurts most in the moment, and wanes from there.
Experience has taught me this over and over. The passage of time quickly helps put the importance of that criticism into perspective. As much as it stings in the moment, you can keep that sting from swelling by remembering that it’s hardly the end of the world. It’s just one person(s) telling another their opinion in a world where a multitude of opinions are the fabric of life.
5. Assume criticism will strengthen, not weaken, you.
Criticism will do the latter if you keep beating yourself up over it, guaranteed. It helps here to choose who gets to criticize you. Not all criticism is created equal and not everyone gets a seat at this table. You don’t want to give undue influence to those who shouldn’t have it.
So if you’re beating yourself up over criticism from someone who doesn’t get a vote, mentally dismiss that criticism. If you’re spiraling down from warranted criticism, remember the first three tips in this article in particular. Criticism is often a well-disguised gift. It doesn’t feel like it in the moment, but it can only make you stronger.
The bottom line is that you can use emotional intelligence for self-preservation and growth, to make criticism feel like a tool, not a hammer.