Moving Past Criticism and Judgment

Communication at work and at home is an imprecise and subjective art form. Words, context, and tone can evoke many emotions from criticism and dejection to exacerbation and excitement. While you can hone your communication skills as an empathetic individual, you cannot control what others say, think, and do. Learning how to handle critical, judgmental, and sometimes hurtful comments makes you stronger and more confident.

Understand the Nature of Criticism

Criticism isn’t inherently negative. Without constructive criticism, people would never understand their mistakes, correct them, and reach their full potential. Criticism injected with judgmental and/or derogatory language, on the other hand, often evokes an emotional response.

Negative comments hurt most when they come from people you respect, including family members, friends, managers, and colleagues. Some individuals do not realize the hurtful nature of their comments, while others use them to purposefully hurt, manipulate, and belittle. Regardless of the situation, the person, and the motivation, every individual has the power to cope with critical comments in a positive way.

Dealing with Critical and Judgmental Comments

Sometimes repeating a mantra for self-esteem and self-worth isn’t enough to prevent a critical comment from playing on repeat in your mind. The comment might strike you to the core and raise feelings of self-doubt. Whether you receive a less-than-complimentary performance review or hear an offhanded comment from a friend about your weight, use these tips to overcome unhelpful criticism:

  1. Get to the truth. Some critical comments are completely unfounded, but others hold a grain of truth. Take the truth of a comment and ignore the negative framework. As an exercise, write down the next critical or judgmental comment you hear from someone else. Rewrite it as an encouraging statement. Does it make sense? Use that truth as your takeaway, not the negative language.
  1. Sit back for a moment. Sometimes, emotions cloud rational interpretations. Take a step back and process the situation before responding to anyone. After 2–3 minutes, you may feel different about the situation.
  1. Let it roll off your back. While this is easier said than done, sometimes you need to let things slide. We all say things we don’t necessarily mean in the heat of the moment. If the comment’s not true or helpful, it’s out of your hands. Remove yourself from the situation, distract yourself until you forget about it, and then move on.
  1. Discuss communication. In a work setting, you may face criticism on a regular basis. If someone’s communication style leaves you feeling defeated and unmotivated, no one wins. Consider having a frank discussion with managers and others about giving feedback. They may not realize the impact of their words.
  1. Remember, nobody’s perfect. Maintaining an open mind in the face of criticism helps you move forward. If your immediate reaction is to put up a stubborn defense, you could miss out on helpful information and initiate a destructive cycle of negative communication. Stand up for yourself, but avoid reacting in kind.

Facing criticism of any kind with grace takes practice, but doing so helps you grow and achieve your goals. Consider every criticism as an opportunity for improvement. When you react positively, others will too.

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