Criticism can quickly put us on the defense. No matter how constructive it may be, we can easily react as if we are being personally attacked. Going with our gut instinct to defend ourselves from criticism can keep us from being able to gain valuable insight into possible flaws. If we can learn to accept and appreciate the constructive criticism we receive, we are given the opportunity to improve our possible weaknesses. Our first reaction to constructive criticism may be emotionally-drive and overly defensive. We shut ourselves off to hearing about possible areas of improvement when we give into our immediate reaction to defend ourselves. If we can stop and open ourselves up to what the other person I trying to tell us, we will often benefit from their insight. In an article for the The Muse, Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ, author Nicole Lindsay suggests: “At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You’ll have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm.” Zen Habits expands on this suggestion by explaining, “That cooling off time allows me to give it a little more thought beyond my initial reaction. It allows logic to step in, past the emotion. I don’t have anything against emotion, but when it’s a negative emotion, sometimes it can cause more harm than good. So I let my emotions run their course, and then respond when I’m calmer.” It may also be helpful for us to take a moment to recognize the motivations behind the criticism we are receiving. If someone is genuinely attempting to give us insight into potential areas for improvement in what we are doing, we should react with appreciation rather than being dismissive. If we are unsure of what they mean, we can ask questions and share our perspective on the situation. Constructive criticism is rarely a personal attack—we can learn to recognize that the criticism is of our actions rather than of us. Then, we are able to accept and understand the constructive criticism without resorting to anger, dismissiveness, or getting defensive.
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