May 282012

No one is perfect, even the most accomplished of us make mistakes or have problem areas in our personal or professional lives. What’s more, sometimes we’re not even aware of our weaknesses. That’s why embracing criticism can lead to positive changes in our lives.

Criticism can be constructive or destructive. This article will focus on the former because it generally follows good intentions and we care a lot about sharing messages that are encouraging. We begin with a simple definition. Constructive criticism points out problem areas where you might improve and are usually framed in a way that makes them useful for this purpose. In many cases it is a parent, friend, mentor, coach, teacher or your boss.

Although accepting any kind of criticism can be difficult, it’s important to keep an open mind towards constructive criticism. Consider who is criticizing you. Is it in that person’s best interest to see you succeed or fail? If by making personal improvements you might enhance your critics own success, there’s a strong chance their intentions are positive.

If you’ve judged that the source your criticism is positive, the next step is to listen with humility. Remember that although you’re not perfect in some ways, neither is your critic. Perhaps if the situation were different, you would be the one who could enhance the other person’s life by providing critical feedback. Only by listening carefully can you learn in situation like this one.

Once someone has helped you outline areas were improvement is both a possibility and necessity, then you can move forward to evaluate the critique. Were your trouble spots areas you knew you had problems with, or did the critique come as a surprise? Did your critic base their judgment on a pattern they were in a position to observe, or did they base their judgment on a single event? Did your critic offer advice on ways you might improve your performance? Or did they merely pass judgment?

Even the best critics may not have the expertise or experience to offer suggestions for ways to improve. In this case, you should consider their bringing a problem area to your attention as a true gift, the sort which comes from someone you respect. In other cases only part of a critic’s advice may be valid. It’s up to you to decide what parts may be at least partially true. Most of all, always remember that it does no good to take constructive criticism as a personal attack on your abilities or character. Even if your critics intention were to hurt you, it remains your choice the weight and value to assign it.

If you find yourself feeling angry or defensive, remember that those feeling may just be your minds way of defending habits or behaviors you know deep down need improvement, but that are also difficult to change. Making changes to improve ourselves is never without some stress. It may be that we’ve chosen to do something in a particular way because it was the best choice available at the time. Or it could have been simply easier.

For example, do you remember first learning to tie shoelaces? At first it was hard to do, it required us to hold opposite ends of an object in different hands while trying to cross them at just the right time and dimensions in order to get the perfect knot. Before long tying your shoelaces became second nature, you could now do it in the dark.

Try to remember other times in the past when you’ve learned a new skill or were put in a new situation. Did things get easier over time? Perhaps the areas you’ve been offered constructive criticism about are similar to this. Change may be hard at first, but in the end the improvement you’ve made probably won’t take any extra thought at all, and you’ll be able to take pride in doing something else well.

When giving or receiving constructive criticism, remember to evaluate the negative and positive points your critic brought up equally. When someone is evaluating you it’s likely they will purposely point out areas where you’ve done well alongside areas that could use improvement. Take care to notice this praise; it might ease the emotional sting that comes with being confronted with your weaknesses.

In cases where you judge a critic’s advice invalid, accept the situation gracefully. It’s rare that getting angry or holding a grudge against someone will lead to a positive outcome. In most cases you’ll be the one left to bare the stress. Because holding on to negative experiences gives away important tools necessary to reach your goals, namely, power over your health and well being.

Remember, the most important thing you can learn from constructive criticism is that inside each and every person is an even better person waiting to emerge. And when you’re in the position to offer constructive criticism to someone else, you can use what you’ve learned to make your message to them stronger causing a ripple effect of people drawing closer to the better person within.