Within most criticism is a grain of substance, not always visible in the moment and even less so when it comes from someone you feel doesn’t know you well. But as with any incoming information, you need to reframe what you are hearing and that starts with the terminology.
Criticism has long been linked as something negative (inclined to judge severely) and therefore unwelcome so perhaps the friendlier and more acceptable term is feedback.
When someone decides they need to provide you with ‘feedback’ the first thing you need to do is assess who the person is. Is it someone who knows you well? Someone who spends sufficient time around you to have developed a sense of who you are? Someone who reviews or assesses work you do? Or is it someone you’ve met in passing and have barely spent more than 2 minutes speaking with. This may help you to decide the level of ‘knowledge’ that might be contained in the message. But don’t push ‘outsiders’ away, sometimes they find it much easier to be totally upfront with you than those who know you well.
Your job is to listen. Listening is one of the most challenging of skills at any time. When someone is telling you something you are potentially not going to like it becomes even more challenging. There is a tendency to only tune into the negative, dismissing any positive comments. Whatever is said, listen out for the message within, not just the words delivered. Remember, not everyone is a master at expressing what they mean and it is all too easy to misinterpret the real message.
Once you’ve listened ask for clarification – have you understood the message?
Then take the information away to think through. This allows you to consider the content, reflect on it and any truism therein. What might the message be to you? What might you be saying or doing unconsciously that is showing up as a behaviour others find distasteful? What might you be doing consciously that others are noticing and disliking? Maybe you are being misunderstood in which case how might you change your delivery?
Always review you first before diving in on the defensive. Easier said than done when someone is purposefully trying to put you down and that, of course, is where distinguishing fact from opinion comes in.
On the other hand, don’t take every bit of feedback to heart and allow it to destroy your confidence; it is a message you can act upon or not. You get to choose your response and your behaviour. So strive to be your biggest self and do not overreact… and yes, like most things, it takes practice!