Unless you have thick skin or a lot of practice in taking direct feedback, most people will agree that being criticised can be rather uncomfortable. The trick to turning criticism into something valuable is to distance yourself from your initial emotional response, find the nugget of truth embedded in the message regardless of its delivery, and use it to perform better and grow from the experience.
Research has shown that avoiding criticism instead of embracing it leads to bad decision-making, poor performance and failure. If you tend to become angry or defensive when faced with criticism, you are much less likely to listen and understand what’s being said. The more emotional we are, the more limited our thinking becomes and the more questionable our reactions will be. Handling criticism is a skill, and like any skill, it can be developed through practice and understanding.
Open-mindedness and Transparency
“Holding wrong opinions in one’s head and making bad decisions based on them instead of having thoughtful disagreements is one of the greatest tragedies of mankind,” said Bridgewater Associates’ Founder and one of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and investors, Ray Dalio. In his book Principles: Life and Work, he elaborates on the idea of “radical transparency”. It’s an approach that encourages people to challenge each other’s views, regardless of rank.
“Radical open-mindedness and radical transparency are invaluable for rapid learning and effective change. The more open-minded you are, the less likely you are to deceive yourself – and the more likely it is that others will give you honest feedback. If you don’t put yourself out there with your radical transparency, you won’t learn,” he writes.
Not everyone agrees, but the aphorisms make sense to many and have helped people find their spark again through truth, mindfulness and problem-solving. These 7 Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life, and how to handle criticism well:
Realise that you have nothing to fear from knowing the truth.
Being truthful is essential to being an independent thinker and obtaining a greater understanding of what is right. You need to understand intellectually why untruths are scarier than truths and then, through practice, get accustomed to living with them. Truth, or more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality, is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes. Untruths or staying silent are just a temporary delay to the inevitable. Put your honest thoughts on the table.
Recognise that while most people prefer compliments, accurate criticism is more valuable.
Compliments and praise may boost your ego, but it’s not all that enlightening. Criticism on the other hand, if constructive and truthful, provides you with accurate feedback on the mistakes you’ve made. You’ve heard the expression “no pain, no gain”, and being able to receive and act on criticism means both parties can work towards a better outcome. If you are surrounded by “yes”-people who always agree with you, you might as well just listen to yourself and stop asking others for their input.
Don’t feel bad about your mistakes or those of others.
We all make mistakes. It’s in our nature. As we go through life, we have plenty of opportunity to learn and improve. Therefore, no matter what kind of criticism is aimed at you, it’s important to analyse it and learn from it. Remember that mistakes are the first and most essential part of the learning process. Feeling bad about them will only prevent you from getting better.
Don’t worry about looking good. Worry about achieving your goals.
There is a consistent message about self-reflection in the principles. People interested in making the best possible decisions recognise that they have weaknesses and blind spots, and they always seek to learn more so that they can get around them. Your choice of goals will determine your direction. There is always a best possible path. Your job is to find it and have the courage to follow it.
Embrace tough love.
Tough love is effective for achieving both great work and great relationships. Putting comfort ahead of success produces worse results for everyone. He says that he both loves the people he works with and pushes them to be great, and he expects them to do the same with him. They are also tough on each other, to make sure they are the best they can be. Tough love shouldn’t be strict or emotionless. The point is to build a culture of introspection and self-improvement.
Remember to reflect when you experience pain.
Pain + reflection = progress. On Twitter, Dalio posted:
“Remember this: the pain is all in your head. If you want to evolve, you need to go where the problems and the pain are. By confronting the pain, you will see more clearly the paradoxes and problems you face. Reflecting on them and resolving them will give you wisdom.”
If several different believable people say you are doing something wrong and you are the only one who doesn’t see it that way, assume you are probably biased.
This is another life principle that encourages us to be radically open-minded. While it is possible that you are right and they are wrong, he explains that you should switch from a fighting mode to an “asking questions” mode and be objective. Compare your believability with theirs and agree to bring in a neutral party you all respect if necessary to break the deadlock.
Use Emotional Intelligence
People who give effective criticism balance empathy with an understanding of the person they are giving feedback to while remaining objective and calm. However, not all criticism is delivered effectively. There are two types of criticism – constructive and destructive – and learning to recognise the difference can help you deal with any criticism you may receive.
When you get challenged by another person, remain calm and ask yourself this question: “Is there any truth in this?” Sometimes there’s not. But often there is. Even if there’s just a nugget of truth, that’s something that can help you grow. Self-awareness is the key to emotional intelligence, and our critics help us become more self-aware.
To get the outcome you want, you need to take a good, hard look at yourself often and face the reality of the situation. Criticism, and how we respond to it, fuels personal growth. Essentially, truth is self-acceptance and people are happiest when they can be unapologetically themselves.