The simplest way to be criticized is this: be yourself. As Aristotle once said, “to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
No matter what path your life takes, you’re bound to come across someone who dislikes your decision and openly expresses how unhappy they feel about it.
Just recently, my wife and I took some criticism over a decision we made.
At the start of the year, we took a trip to Turkey. We walked around Istanbul, saw Ephesus and stopped over at Pamukkale (absolutely gorgeous, by the way). The whole trip was beautiful and unforgettable.
It seems so uncontroversial, expect for one aspect – my wife was six months pregnant.
To be clear, we did our due diligence. We perused forums to read about experiences other pregnant women had in Turkey. Before we left, we researched hospitals to see what was available (they’re good there).
In addition, our doctor gave us the OK to go and we even got a clean bill of health two days before we left. And to top it all, we bought great travel insurance, just in case.
However, we were harshly judged for our actions. Many people lashed out at us and criticized our “reckless behavior”.
To be fair, our critics were coming from a source of love and concern, but it was still difficult to not take personally.
How to Take Criticism like a Pro
The trouble with criticism is in how our brains process it, putting a lot more focus and attention on negativity. According to a study, one negative comment carries the same weight in our minds as five positive ones.
This was true of our experience. Looking back before our trip, I can see that most people were either positive or neutral on the subject. There was just a select few vocal critics to make us feel bad about what we were doing.
And feelings are the real problem with criticism. It’s not that you’re being criticized or judged unfairly, it’s that those criticisms and judgements make you feel bad as a result.
According to the book User’s Manual for the Brain Volume I:
“The problems we often have in handling criticism constructively lie in dealing with our feelings about being criticized. If we could handle those immediate negative emotions, we could respond constructively to the criticism.”
Then the book gives a great technique to handle the negative emotions that come along with being criticized. They modeled this technique by studying people who handle criticism effectively.
“See yourself at some distance….You are watching yourself receiving criticism. Thus you see yourself “out there,” any negative feelings you had during that time will [also] seem “out there,” and you can feel curious about those feelings.”
In effect, you replay the criticism in your mind as if you’re looking at it from a third person perspective. You watch yourself receiving the criticism as if you’re another person entirely. This helps you disassociate from the critical comments so you can get past the hurt feelings.
This has been backed up in other research studies too. According to a study reported in Psychology Today:
“Participants reported feeling significantly less emotional pain when they envisioned the memory using a third-person perspective than when using a first-person perspective. Further, utilizing a psychologically distant vantage point also allowed them to reconstruct their understanding of their experiences and reach new insights and feelings of closure.”
I don’t know why exactly it works, but it does. After I replayed the criticism for our trip to Turkey using a third-person point of view, I felt a lot better about it. It allowed me to move away from the negative criticisms and get them out of my head.
Benjamin Franklin on Turning Critics into Friends
So that’s how you handle criticism. But what should you do about the critics and the haters themselves?
One big lesson I learned about haters comes from Benjamin Franklin.
As Benjamin Franklin went from success to success, he naturally gained a few enemies along the way. When he started running for the position of clerk in a club, they started bashing him. One person in particular critiqued him at every opportunity.
Rather than confront the person directly, Franklin decided to take a different tactic. He sent a letter to the hater asking to borrow a rare and curious book from his library.
Renowned as a discerning book collector and founder of a library, Franklin had a respectable reputation in the literary community. The man was so flattered that he immediately sent the book. A week later, Franklin sent it back with a thank you note.
The next time they met, the hater had changed his attitude completely. Eventually they developed a friendship which lasted all the way to his death.
How did this happen?
The thing that Franklin did right was that he directed his efforts at changing the person’s behavior, not his attitude.
Most people think attitude determines behavior, but it’s actually the other way around. Our behavior determines attitude.
When Franklin asked his biggest critic to lend him a valuable book, he was getting the person to do something nice for him. Since people generally only do favors for those they like, his attitude adjusted to fit the behavior.
In fact, the more nice things someone does for you, the nicer they’ll become. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you get someone to do something nice for you, they’ll rationalize in their head that they must like you and their attitude will change as a result.
Clashing with haters about their attitude head-on will probably just bring on more hate. However, if you change their behavior, you’ll find that the person who was once a critic is now a friend.
To quote Franklin: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
photo credit: Brandon Warren