How to Manage Criticism
As parents we are subject to criticism on a daily basis. Some of it comes in the form of disapproving stares from other customers when our kids are having a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. Sometimes it is someone telling us how we could be better parents. For those of us who use social media – we see a constant stream of articles about what we are doing wrong, how our children will be spoiled, ruined by too much screen time, doomed by not learning to code by age five, overweight because they eat Cheetos for breakfast, etc, etc.
The criticism from all these sources are fuel to the worst critic we face every day – ourselves. We judge ourselves by how involved other dads are, or how involved they appear to be in their Facebook photos. You might wonder whether your kids ought to be signed up for more or fewer activities to help them become more rounded, more skilled humans. We question if it is better to be available and respond to our kids’ every need or leave them to it and help them build their independence and problem solving skills. Sifting through our competing life priorities we wish we had more time to give to our kids, or maybe less time, but more quality, or maybe that we had more money to give them better lives.
I’ve been thinking more about criticism and dealing with it lately as I watch Donald Trump lash out in criticism of him. For a politician he has unusually thin skin and seems unable to separate humour from job and policy critiques and struggles to differentiate between constructive and destructive criticism.
Criticism can either help us learn and grow or it can grind us down, it all depends on how you respond to it and what you do with the feedback provided.
Constructive vs. Destructive Criticism
Constructive criticism is intended to improve the process, the outcome or the person.
Destructive criticism is intended to damage the process, outcome and especially the person.
Learning from Constructive Criticism
In high school I picked up a phrase that I have carried with me ever since – ‘there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.’ I look at constructive criticism the same way.
The first step to processing, absorbing and growing from constructive criticism is to accept that you are not perfect. There is always room for improvement and growth. There is always a better way to do a thing and there are always people with better ideas than you. Often combining your ideas results in a better outcome than either person’s idea on it’s own.
With the recognition that you don’t have the corner on all the best ideas, you can then be open to accepting feedback from others that will enable you to improve. This open mindset will help you to listen to constructive criticism when it is delivered.
When delivered properly, without malice, constructive criticism is aimed at improving the process, ideas or behaviour and not at the individual personally. Accept the feedback, listen for the opportunities to adjust and, while sometimes challenging, don’t take it personally. Constructive criticism should not be viewed or taken as an attack.
Ask questions as necessary to clarify the information being provided and ensure you really understand it and where it is coming from. If it is feedback about an idea or process improvement, listen and evaluate what is shared and determine its value.
If you receive feedback about a behaviour, especially from an employer, consider whether it is a behaviour you need to stop and make an effort to modify or stop the behaviour as needed.
In all cases, if the person delivering the criticism is genuinely trying to be helpful, thank them for their feedback and input.
Managing Destructive Criticism
Destructive criticism is delivered by someone seeking to tear you down or be a barrier to what you are working to achieve. They are making an effort to undermine and derail you. In the most extreme cases they are working to destroy your self-confidence and identity.
There are sometimes opportunities to learn from their criticism. Evaluate the feedback received and decide whether it has any value. In most cases destructive criticism will have no value. Understanding the intent of the person delivering the criticism will help you determine whether there is any merit in what they are saying.
If the criticism is a one-time or infrequent occurrence, let it roll off your back and move on. If it is repeated, you will need a strategy to defend yourself, including protecting your self-esteem and confidence. It is not always possible to push back against the individual and in those cases you may need to enlist support.
If the individual is delivering these attacks in a work environment, speak to your employer or co-workers to request assistance in dealing with them. If it is taking place outside of work, turn to friends and if the situation is more intense and dangerous, request help from organizations, like the police, social support agencies, etc. that can help you.
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Managing your Harshest Critic – You
Self-criticism comes in various forms and with various solutions.
For some it is minor occurrences caused by occasional bouts of self-doubt, perhaps fuelled by feelings of inadequacy brought on by a challenging child / situation or perhaps by seeing photos and reading stories of apparently successful parents. It may come from going with our child to a friend’s house and see an immaculately clean house every time and question why our house has kid-debris in every corner. . . all the time! We could be talking to another dad who is listing off all the activities they are doing with their kids and think about how few we do with our own kids. Perhaps we have a child who launches into uncontrollable tantrums at the drop of a hat and wonder why we can’t help our kid get it together.
In these instances we need to remember to determine whether our self-criticism is constructive – e.g. should I be putting my kid in more activities or do we have the right balance now? What changes can I make to spend more time with my family? Or if that criticism is destructive e.g I am a terrible parent because my house isn’t spotless.
When it comes to parenting, we have to remember that the parent who does not struggle, who has an always clean house, whose child(ren) are always wonderful – is largely a myth, perpetuated by the images we share with each other on social media. We all have snippets of our ideal life when our house is clean, our kids are wonderful, we have bathed in the last 24 hours and are wearing clean clothes. Those are the moments we snap photos and share them online. The moments of success we see online are not a true reflection of the whole of parenting and it is helpful to keep that in mind.
Everyone has to find the version of parenting that works for them and their kids. When you are struggling and critical of your abilities as a parent and as a human, reach out and talk to someone, preferably another parent. Voice all those critical thoughts and your listener can help you sift through to find the ones that require solutions and the ones that you can discard.
Managing criticism, whether from an external or internal source is most successful when you seek the grains of truth. Look for the lessons you can take from the criticism. Sometimes the lesson will lead to behaviour or process changes. In other instances the lesson will be to ignore everything a particular critic says to you. There is always a lesson. Take a deep breath whenever you receive criticism, learn from it and move forward.