Some of the criticism that I have received in the past has been about my work. However, more of the criticism has been about how I did my work. When the criticism was being dispensed, it felt very personal and hurtful at the time. In many cases, I over-reacted and became defensive. I was unable to maintain my cool when given the “gift” of feedback. My body language strongly signaled my displeasure to the negative comments, including crossed arms, furrowed brows, flared nostrils and even squinting eyes.
Over the course of my 25+ year career, I’ve been called mean spirited, willful, too aggressive, and too nice. And let’s not forget my personal favorite: self-promoting. I’ve also been criticized for being too creative. Do you see how personal it gets? Once I had a newly hired direct report tell me that my “management style was like poison.” She was close to the truth. It was my hiring skills that were flawed at the time.
Why does the negative criticism have greater stickiness than the positive, glowing remarks? If I had a scorecard, I’m sure the positive feedback comments would far outweigh the negative ones. Probably the same would hold true for you. Are we all just focused on the wrong things?
How do you run your brain?
I learned a great deal when I decided to get certified in Neuro Linguistic Programming. Simply put, NLP is the study of how you run your brain. It examines the impact that language has on your thoughts and feelings and how that effects every cell in your body. NLP offers rapid change techniques to improve outcomes in your business, relationships, sports and health.
NLP helped me get out of my own way when it came to dealing with criticism, anxiety, fears, self-imposed limitations, etc. The NLP training and certification that I received from NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer Mark Shepard gave me a whole slew of useful coaching techniques that I now incorporate into my executive coaching programs, presentation training workshops and even my networking practice.
In this blog post, I share some of those NLP-inspired techniques, along with two other wise approaches from thought-leaders that I admire.
Strategy #1: Insulate yourself from anonymous criticism
Seth Godin wrote an insightful blog on this topic of receiving critical feedback. He was specifically addressing the questionable benefits of anonymous criticism. He advises:
“There are plenty of ways to get useful and constructive feedback. It starts with looking someone in the eye, with having a direct one on one conversation or email correspondence with a customer who cares. Forms, surveys, mass emails, tweets–none of this is going to do anything but depress you, confuse you (hey, half the audience wants one thing, the other half wants the opposite!) or paralyze you.
I’m arguing that it’s a positive habit to deliberately insulate yourself from this feedback. Don’t ask for it and don’t look for it. Yes, change what you make to enhance delight. No, don’t punish yourself by listening to the mob.”
Strategy #2: Modeling appropriate responses to criticism
My networking friend Ori Clare was the one who suggested writing on this topic. He was motivated when he read my last week’s networking tip on how to give and receive feedback. Here is some useful feedback he offers to equip our children with coping strategies for negative feedback. Of course, it starts with how we, acting as parents, teachers and coaches, react to it ourselves.
“As a former Little League coach for many years, I can tell you the problem comes right back home with our own, everyday kids. In Little League, that’s the age when the kids learn their strategies (both helpful AND counter-productive) for coping with stress, loss, embarrassment, etc. We are actually trained as coaches to remain stoic – if not upbeat – to model appropriate responses to loss for the kids at bat or in the field. No groans, no eye-rolling – just keeping it positive (although there were times when I did my fair share of the former). And cringing when the parents in the stands act out their own frustrations with their kids on the field, and demonstrate poor role-modeling.” – Ori Clare, Co-Owner at Enlightened Professionals and Consulting Hypnotist at HeartMind Hypnosis of CT.
Other creative strategies for dealing with unpleasant criticism
During the feedback session:
- Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. This is one of the late, great Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit 5 suggests that we use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving
- Question it. Ask tons of specific questions. Get examples. Don’t allow the dispenser of negative criticism to get away without providing multiple, real examples of your negative performance.
- Water off a duck’s back. Let the criticism just repel off you as if you have a protective layer of water resistant feathers. You need to stay afloat. Like a duck, you must survive in the water. Drowning is not an option. Become water-tight when it comes to swimming in criticism.
After the feedback session:
- Shrink it down, push it away using the NLP Swish pattern. This is a helpful technique from Neuro Linguistic Programming which allows you to stop the continuous replay of the negative criticism in your mind. If you get stuck running this “negative movie” over and over again, you can use this NLP technique to eliminate or at least diminish the negative emotions of that past criticism. It goes like this: a) change the picture of what you are seeing to Black/White; b) mute it – hear nothing, just see their mouth moving; c) freeze frame – stop the action altogether; d) shrink down the stilled image to the size of a postage stamp; e) throw the image in an imaginary trash can in your mind; f) pull up a BETTER image, a picture of you getting praised and feeling good about your work. Make this image big, bright, moving, 3D, larger than life. You may have to repeat this several times until the old, unwanted, negative picture is gone and is replaced by the better, more positive picture that restores your self-confidence and happiness.
- Take what you can use and disregard the rest. While constructive feedback is a gift, not all gifts are constructive. Some people are untrained and pretty lousy at dispensing feedback. Remember that all feedback is projection; someone is casting their view of the world onto you. Your job is to be gracious in receiving the gift of feedback; but it’s up to you what you do with it. Learn from it and use it to help you get stronger (not weaker). You are going to have to disregard much of the feedback and let it go. Think of it as waste product that your body cannot absorb. “Better out than in,” that’s what Shrek always says
- Rise above it (literally). This is a useful strategy for gaining perspective and letting go of the anger, fear, loss of confidence, defensiveness or whatever other negative emotion remains with you in the aftermath of the negative criticism. Assume a third person point of view as you see yourself receiving the criticism. See the person giving you the feedback. Ask yourself what do you have to learn from this situation? What other options were available to you that you were not aware of? With this new knowledge, come back to the present and check your feelings. Are the negative emotions gone? Have they disappeared?
- Drive it away. If none of the above works for you, you can follow the creative suggestion that I heard from a Blogging Mom (whose name I cannot remember). She would print out the negative comments she received on her blog and place them in her drive way. She would then get in her car and run over the paper with the car. It helped her release her anger without hurting anyone or anything. I’ve never tried this, but always wanted to! It’s a step up from crumpling up the paper and throwing it away. (caution: This is a tongue in cheek suggestion. Please do not attempt this strategy unless you have tons of insurance and a very good lawyer!)
Your Networking Goal for the Week
Be aware of how you respond to negative criticism this week. Whether it is in the context of work, networking or family life, pay closer attention to how you react to it. Watch your body language, monitor your thoughts; observe what comes out of your mouth. Consider trying out one of these techniques for handling negative criticism in the moment. Your ability to stay cool and collected while remaining open and connected to others DURING the negative feedback process will go a long way in building your relationships (not to mention your credibility).
If you have any old residual negativity from past criticism that you are hanging on to, it’s time to let that go. Make an effort to process these events for the last time and release them. Any learning that you could have benefited from with that feedback is long since past. Only the pain and anguish remain. Let that negative emotion go using one of the above listed techniques. You will feel lighter and will be more resilient as a result!