Dealing with criticism & what makes us happy

On Gretchen’s Happiness blog there’s a post about how to deal with criticism. Inspired by Gretchen’s own honesty about how not-so-good she is at dealing with criticism, I’ve decided to publish her advice here and comment on it with my own thoughts.

1. Listen to what a critic is saying. Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you formulate your retorts.

This is very, very hard. When the pulse quickens, blood rushes to your head, the eyes sting, it’s almost a super-human effort to really listen. Only way to deal with this is to use rule no. 4.

2. Don’t be defensive. This is the toughest step for me. With my writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I’m eager to hear how to improve my book/article/post.” Act the way you want to feel! That’s my Third Commandment. Along the same lines…

When the criticism is on the personal level, I find it almost impossible not to be defensive. I’m hurt! But professional criticism in a friendly environment I think I’ve learnt to handle. And I even like it when my sister-in-law criticises my English, because I strive for perfection and she helps me!

3. Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic. Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it just isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective.

Here I also try to use strategy no. 4.

4. Delay your reaction. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. A friend told me that she has a rule for herself: when she’s upset about something that happened at her children’s school, she won’t let herself do anything about it for three days – and usually she decides that no action is better than action.

This is the only thing I can say with certainty that I’ve become better at over the years. Sleep on it! I never send off an angry e-mail the day I write it, always chew on it at least for a day, sometimes weeks. I can proudly say that quite a few angry e-mails have found their way to the trash – where they belonged!

5. Explain honestly the reason for your actions. Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings and motives. Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

I try to do this, I really do. But sometimes I find that people don’t believe that I am being honest. And then I really don’t know what to do?

6. Admit your mistakes. This is extremely effective and disarming. When I got my first job, my father told me, “If you take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true. Difficult, but true. Admitting mistakes is the first step, then…

I think I’ve become better at this too. But I have also had some bad experiences with it. In the workplace, if you take the blame one time too often (having made a mistake jointly with others) – just to ward off lots of hassle and to be nice to your colleagues, thinking they might take the blame another time – you actually might end up being fired!

7. Explain what you’ve learned. If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it. That, itself, usually mollifies critics.

This is very true. But sometimes it can lead to the most awful self-righteousness from the other party. And then you want to criticise them…

8. Enjoy the fun of failure. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high opens you to criticism. I tell myself to Enjoy the fun of failure to try to re-frame failure and criticism as part of the fun. Otherwise, my dread of criticism can paralyze me.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried this tack. Maybe it’s due to a lack of humour. Must try it next time.

A fantastic book on the subject of happiness
A fantastic book on the subject of happiness

As mentioned I found this on a blog dedicated to the search for happiness. You might not know this, but the whole subject of happiness, how we perceive it and how to achieve it interests me a lot – so much that I even read books about it, not only blogs. The book here on the left is practically my bible. And it’s not “psycho-babble”. He gives no advice about what to do to get happier. He tells us about how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future and that is mind-boggling!

Daniel Gilbert is a good example of something I learned while I worked in the music industry. One must separate the (wo)man from the message! Sometimes I’d be giddy for days because I would get to meet an artist, whose music I adored. And I’d be DISAPPOINTED, because the artist(s) turned out to be a first class a……  Other times I’d been dreading a concert because I found the artist bad or just plain old boring. And had a fantastic time, because the person(s) turned out to be ever so nice/funny/intelligent/sexy or all of those things…

I haven’t met Daniel Gilbert, but I’ve seen clips with him on TED and he’s really quite annoying to listen to – it’s something with his swear-words and jokes I can’t handle. But try to listen to what he’s actually saying and ignore his persona. And then go buy the book! This particular video is quite long, but I PROMISE you that it’s SO worthwhile to see it through to the end, where he talks about terrorism and our response to it (the clip is from 2005). There are quite a few videos on TED about Happiness. Find them here.

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