If you have gotten off the wrong foot with someone and were at the receiving end of bitter words and harsh criticism, I can fully empathize with you. As my own experience in dealing with criticism says, the force of harsh and critical words can cause a psychological hit, not to mention having an upsetting and overwhelming spiral.
I know you wish you could be Teflon and all those words could bounce off of your mind. But that really doesn’t happen, does it? Criticism hits our human need for safety and worth with brutal force, causing you to panic at times. Safety can be perceived as material and physical security while a sense of self-respect and self-confidence are hallmarks of your worth.
What do we do in the face of such adversity? We let our emotions do the talking, either by ebbing to the lowest point of our emotional state or by losing control and using violence as a safety net. Both can be counterproductive.
While it is easy to say, consider this – The most effective way to deal with harsh criticism is to pause those heavy emotions, and think back. ‘What message does your criticizer want to convey?. What do his words mean and are there any particular reasons or motivations behind it?’ With some focus, it can be easily deduced if the words of your criticizer were a way to vent out his emotions or do he/she suffers from personal issues.
If it turns out to be neither, then jealousy or a bad day would be the underlying causes. If that is the case, be mindful that you will always encounter such backbiters and naysaying crop of people.
It works wonders for your sense of self-worth and initiates a positive internal feedback loop if you decide to ignore the fits thrown by such people and build that Teflon skin to shield yourself.
Here are some ways you can do that.
Keep Yourself Cool, Calm and Collected
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything is fine. The world is not about to end and things can be fixed if something is wrong or you have made a mistake. Then, take the time to analyse and decipher the form of criticism or feedback given to you.
Constructive criticism can be necessary and helps you grow and adapt to change. Negative or destructive criticism is primarily meant to hurt, under the pretext of pointing out flaws. In both instances, keep yourself calm and ingrain the constructive while deflecting the negative.
Hold Back from Replying, if Possible
If the critical remarks were received on a platform other than face-to-face interaction, like email, chat, social media or anywhere that permits you to respond later, then it is advisable to hold back from replying.
This will test the limits of your patience as well as temper but leaving emotions aside, there are a few psychological advantages of replying to criticism after some time.
Firstly, it shows that the comment didn’t affect you badly enough to warrant a quick reply, which gets to the nerves of the criticizer if his only intention was to hurt or malign you. This gives you an edge in that mind game.
Secondly, if the comment has indeed hurt you and you are charged up emotionally, your ability to think logically will be limited and any instant reply will do more harm than good.
Listen and Understand
Now listening and understanding would seem the last thing on your mind when dealing with the onslaught of harsh criticism, this is precisely the behaviour that will detach you from these barbs and act as a deterrent to negative criticism. Be a bit curious and ask for examples with pertinent questions.
After that, simply listen. Think that those harsh words are being spoken for a third person and you are a reporter trying to cover the story for that person. This will work wonders for your psyche and dampen the spirits of a serial criticizer.
Recover and Engage
A simple closure or exit of the conversation can be your best bet in the face of criticism. Since you have been patiently listening and understanding as stated before, now explain that you need some time for reflecting on the conversation and you will get back when you get the chance.
Promise to “have a look at that.” and simple recover from the baggage of a quick or a whimsical reply. Now that you neither agree nor disagree, you can promise that you intend to look into the matter in your own timeframe.
Another approach that can set you in the right footing is to Engage. Generally, whatever people are telling you or criticizing you about has some magnitude of truth in it. Explore if that magnitude is close to 100% and constructive or a fluffy rant with barely 10% of real substance.
Look for the truth and then have another dialogue with the person who had talked to you and tell what is acceptable and what is the plan for the future. A stern but polite dissection of the real issue at hand can prove to be the most fitting answer to harsh criticism.
Increase Your Self-confidence
A high level of self-confidence is the key to keeping your cool amidst a critical comment. Lesser self-confidence has an amplifying effect to make a critical comment look much worse than it actually is. The more confidence you exude, the lesser you will be affected by criticism and you can handle it just like all other tasks you do as a student.
To conclude, a cohesive strategy that involves a mix of confidence, detachment of emotions, holding back from a quick reply, listening and understanding the root cause of harsh criticism can let you judge the best way to proceed.
After that, you can either take the constructive criticism in your stride or deflect the negative energy of a destructive criticism using that Teflon coating!