I don’t know of anyone who likes being criticized. I certainly didn’t (and don’t). Indeed, I am still sensitive to criticism.
But, I welcome criticism now.
In other words, I have mastered my sensitivity.
Let me start with a story.
I am a Senior Adjunct Professor at an accredited University. I have been for over 25 years.
While the feedback I get from my students now is that I am fairly good at what I do, this wasn’t always the case.
Indeed, I started teaching because I was highly anxious about public speaking. And, as you might guess, I was terrible at it.
NOTE: I did not say that I was “afraid” of public speaking as the correct emotion here is anxiety and not fear!
For several years, I did not seek out feedback from my students because I was both aware of my short-comings and I was “sensitive” to any comments (criticism) which brought attention to my lack of skill.
Any criticism only highlighted my sense of inadequacy.
My feeling inadequate led to my wanting to avoid being judged.
I was also fairly naive at the time about how emotions worked as tools.
Once I became a little more self-assured, I began to seek feedback from my students.
Seeking feedback is an effective way to deal with criticism and I’ll discuss this in more detail below.
When you talk about being sensitive to criticism, there are two issues.
- The first involves the nature of criticism.
- The second involves the nature of “sensitivity”.
First, let me address the issue of criticism.
The root of the word criticism and critical is the same and involves passing judgment.
By its very nature, criticism involves a judgement or evaluation of your actions by another person.
When you are being criticized, someone else is telling you their opinion about what you have done. (Or, you are sharing with them your opinion.)
Now, when you look at criticism from a psychological perspective, there are two categories and four possible actions involving criticism.
I. Giving Criticism: (1) Constructive Giving and (2) Destructive Giving
II. Taking Criticism: (3) Constructive Taking and (4) Destructive Taking
Because I am addressing the idea of being sensitive to criticism, I will focus on the category of “taking” criticism.
Regardless of the focus of the criticism, there are two elements to the message.
- One is the manner in which critical comments are delivered
- The other is the validity (or truthfulness) of the critical comments.
However, when it comes to sensitivity, neither of these elements are critical.
Let me repeat that with emphasis added because it could be seen as a bit controversial…
Neither the way a critical message is delivered nor the degree to which the message is true have any connection to how you receive the criticism.
This is the reason that the message, per se, is of secondary importance to sensitivity. (It is important for other reasons as I will discuss below.)
In addition, there are two ways to receive the critical message regardless of the focus of the message.
- One approach to receiving a critical message is constructive.
- The other approach to receiving the message is destructive.
How you receive a message, or your sensitivity, is totally under your control!
As the person to whom the criticism is directed (the taker), if you wish to gain some mastery over your sensitivity, it is critical that you separate the content and the manner of delivery of the criticism from your response to the message.
Indeed, this is the key to mastering your sensitivity.
Typically, when one says that they are “sensitive” to criticism, it usually means that they are hypersensitive and their emotional reaction to the criticism involves anxiety, anger, or feelings of inadequacy.
And, hypersensitivity usually involves destructive taking of criticism.
“Sensitivity” might involve a desire to lash out at the person delivering the criticism.
There was a story in the news recently in which a customer of a well known consumer website published a critique of the website in an online blog. Senior officers of the website were incensed, engaged in very offensive actions of revenge including sending live bugs to the authors of the blog, and ended up being fired by the website which was the focus of the criticism.
Clearly a case of “hypersensitivity” and destructive taking of criticism!
A prominent, and often overlooked aspect of destructive taking of criticism is that the message, or content, of the criticism is given too little consideration.
What do I mean by this?
Well, I mentioned above, that I now seek out feedback from my students. A few years ago, I had a student who did not like my class. Based on this information, I could have justifiably ignored any feedback from the student and assumed that he was biased. (Which, by the way, he was.)
However, when the quarter was over, I specifically reached out to this student for his feedback.
While most of what he said involved his own issues and was not really relevant to me, he made one comment about how I approached the subject matter which was right on. Attempting to adaptively deal with the criticism, I considered his whole message. Had I not done this, I would have missed some useful information. In other words, I would have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Put another way, I would have been guilty of giving too little consideration to the message.
So, in seeking to master your sensitivity to criticism, there are six issues:
- Do not attempt to eliminate your sensitivity. While possible, this can be a difficult task and isn’t really necessary.
- Understand that the criticism is ONLY the opinion (judgement) of the individual directing the message at you. While the qualifications of this person might be a relevant question to consider in rating the value of the criticism, there could still be some value in what is said even if the person is less than qualified to deliver it.
- The message may contain some truth, little truth, or no truth. Truth, here is the extent to which the information is applicable to you. The question to ask is: “What is the relevance of the criticism to me.”
- How you receive the message is ALWAYS a choice. Attempt to constructively receive the message by considering and assessing all of the message.
- You can gain some insight into your sensitivity by looking at the emotions you feel when someone criticizes you and the message of those emotions. If, for example, you get angry, then you are perceiving the criticism as a threat and you will want to identify the nature of the threat. A feeling of inadequacy indicates that you may have some doubt about your own abilities. And so forth.
- Remember to take the time to respond and avoid reacting to the criticism.
For me, now, sensitivity means that I attempt to remain open to any important information that a critical message may have for me. While it also may mean that I still have a tendency to overreact to criticism, I am aware of this and master my emotions as tools to inform me of both how I view the criticism and how I choose a constructive response.