How Giving and Receiving Criticism can make or break you

In both scenarios, our egos inflate. When giving, we can come from a superior standpoint. When receiving we can be in a wounded state. In both places, there is room for misunderstanding, misinterpretation and making it very personal. Ego, when dishing out criticism becomes a bit holier than thou. When expressed from this space, we are actually feeling inferior to the other and to “bring them down” and elevate ourselves, we express criticism. When receiving criticism, our wounds of shame and guilt are exposed. What we dislike about ourselves is now observed and expressed by another. We have no place to hide.  It mostly results in anger, indignation and maybe even bitterness. All are massive egoic states.

But can criticism be really expressed or received without getting egotistic? Yes.

It all depends on the space you are in. So, for example, you are at the office. You have been working hard at a particular project and when it comes up for appraisal, your superior points out some things in it which you had also noticed but tried to cover up or ignored or have been feeling too ashamed to admit. So, when they point it out, you have no place to hide or go undercover. It’s now very personal. You feel like you are perhaps being judged, or even worse, mocked.  And you want to scream or cry that no one noticed how hard you worked. But what you are actually crying about is that in spite of trying to hide the flaws, they could still be seen.

Another scenario could be that for no fault of yours a family member blames and criticizes you for something that happened that may have been out of your control. But in their eyes, you should have been in control of it. And you feel criticized and singled out and it’s not a pretty sight. What follows can be an exchange of angry words or perhaps cold silence.

Can criticism be positive at all? In both cases, whether you are or aren’t at fault, there is a burden of shame. Criticizing others does not feel good to us.  There may be a momentary sense of superiority or elatedness. But it has to be followed by deep-seated clocked shame at what we have done to another. We would not want to be in the other person’s shoes.

What do we need criticism for?

It serves a specific purpose. And if we are using it for anything other than this, we are most probably being judgmental. Criticism is used as a form of appraisal of a project or art form or a review of a person towards the goal of improvement or consideration for purchase/ promotion/ launch. If criticism isn’t goal-oriented, it is simply judgment and we are using it to play ego games with others.  Significant improvements can be made in products or services or a person if this is done right.

So, is constructive criticism better than just criticism? It’s the same as judgment Delivering onto the other that they are not enough. Although constructive criticism has been given a positive label, many still feel the sharpness of it and swear a smile on their faces to show that they are being positive.  If it isn’t goal-oriented and serving a greater purpose, it is stunting and shunning of a person or a project or art form.

If this goes on, how does anyone get anything done? We cannot possibly be averse to receiving and giving feedback on something that is important and needs to go out into the world. We need people who are willing to be the devil’s advocate and have us honestly look at what it is we are creating. How does one bridge this divide of needing improvement vs getting into an egoic shame ridden battle with self or the other?

To Critique is to evaluate. There are food and film critics or reviewers. Their job is to evaluate and analyse everything that they see or eat. They go for the experience. It is more wholesome, all rounded and considering efforts. It takes into account, the good, the bad and the ugly. Critiquing can be seen as more neutral, maybe even more from an appreciative point of view. We can hold the space of critiquing while we offer criticism to others.

So how do we improve anything or anyone through criticism without making it an emotional rollercoaster? 

Firstly, if there is an emotional charge to it, release it. Breathe through the emotions and let them out in your out-breath. The best critiquing or criticism can be done when in a completely neutral space. Both in giving and receiving. Release all emotional charge in both places. If it runs deeper than good breathwork then use simple techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or Sedona Method to release it.

Giving Criticism that makes people

  • Put yourself in the other’s shoes for a few moments before saying anything. If you know this person, then it may be even more prudent to do so. It allows you to access empathy and speak from that space.
  • You can start to critique them by asking them what they feel about what they have created and where do they see room for improvement. What has been their learning? When we invite others to critique their own work or themselves, we are shifting their mindset into being more involved in improvement rather than seeing critiquing as an attack on them. We are also reducing their emotional charge.
  • Use your words well. Don’t needle them unnecessarily. Keep it simple and to the point. E.g.: I felt that your project needed a little more attention to the finances area. What goal did you have in mind while you were making it?”
  • Asking the person what their thinking was at the time of doing a certain task or hoping to achieve may help you understand it better. Then offer what could have been a different way of doing it and then check in with them, if that is something they would like to try.
  • Ask them if they could do this entire thing differently, how would they do it and why?
  • If this is about a person’s behaviour towards you and you didn’t like what they said or did, simply say it. E.g.: When you said this to me, I felt…. And I didn’t like it. I was also afraid of sharing this with you not knowing how you would feel” So instead of criticizing directly, you are highlighting what you felt and taking responsibility for your feelings.
  • Directly and simply stating exactly what is going on in the least amount of words, has the most profound effect on most people. You will find that it comes across as more humane and most people become empathetic.
  • Inviting people to possibility always works. Instead of directly pointing out what is wrong, ask if you could do this differently, how would it look or be. Also, add how you see it. Here you are appreciative of the time, energy and effort they have put in but are still needing to redirect to a better output.

Receiving Criticism that makes you

  • Receiving criticism is a hard one to control. You cannot teach everyone how to critique others. Some are “bulls in a china shop” in their delivery while others have developed the fine art of drawing you out with their criticism. The bottom line, don’t try to control it or expect finesse from others.
  • Gather yourself before receiving criticism. Be internally quiet and open your space up to everything.
  • It will no longer matter “how” it is being said. Pay attention to “what” is being said. Ask questions for clarity rather than perceiving it as an attack on you.
  • If this is about a behaviour from you that is unacceptable, put yourself in their shoes and understand what happened with them. Then apologize if required.
  • If the person throws a lot of emotional garbage at you, let them. It’s got nothing to do with you. Know that once the real issue has been communicated to you, the rest is just emotional projection by them. You can extend a compassionate ear. Nothing beyond that is necessary.
  • If they are going too far in criticizing you, let them know that what they have communicated has been duly noted and you will be more self-aware henceforth and if there is nothing else than that, the topic should not be stretched further for the benefit of the two of you.
  • If this is a person close to you and what they feel matters to you, once they are done criticizing what they disliked, apologize and hug them if needed. Assure them what you need to instead of defending yourself. All the time you spend defending you will only push them further away and they will feel like they have not been heard. Often times there is a lot of projection here as well. It’s not the right time to point it out. Be invested in giving them the space to express themselves fully, know that you are not what they are accusing you of, but that will be expressed in the right time and right place.

Criticism need not be feared. It has this weight due to the sheer judgments levied on it over the years. By itself, criticism can be pretty harmless. But we have made it massively significant. If we see it as an evaluating or feedback mechanism and lower our own defences against it, we just became the easiest people to live and work with. The more you know yourself and know what you are capable of and stand for, the less you will give too much significance to criticism.  Not desiring criticism is also our own fear of what we may discover about ourselves. What are we ashamed of within us? The only way to release shame is to expose the secret out in the open and be free of the burden of it. Then we aren’t defending ourselves anymore and we can receive everything with no point of view. Including criticism.

Aditi Nirvaan

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