I am the first person to admit that I don't like to admit my flaws or failures when they are pointed out by someone other than myself. I don't like to be criticized. I don't like my flaws pointed out. When they are pointed out, my normally calm demeanor and "hope to be" Buddhist life perspective turns into a ball of fury, and in my hand I hold hot coals ready to throw at my criticizer. However, usually those hot coals, anger and balls of fury only end up hurting me. When I turned 40 this year, I made a conscious effort to take a good look at my flaws and fix them before someone else points them out. But in this quest for enlightenment, I realized something: Being criticized by the people we value in our lives may just be a gift sent from the heavens and not a curse. So instead of finding flaws in myself to avoid criticism, I've decided I need to learn to deal better with my fear of being criticized.
I am not sure if I will handle criticism any better tomorrow then I do today. If you are as sensitive as I am, you probably will not change a single thing about yourself just because of one blog you read on Huffington Post. You likely hate being criticized just as passionately as I do. But I can tell you this: If you criticized me the right way, I may actually listen and not be offended. Here are some tips for insensitive people who feel so free to criticize others.
1. No one likes criticism of one's character, not even Hemingway. In 1933, Max Eastman wrote a scathing review of Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon for the New Republic, in which he questioned Hemingway's masculinity and self-confidence. Four years later, the two gentlemen did duke it out like respectable men. Hemingway hit Eastman in the face with a book. He later punched out poet Wallace Stevens, who also questioned his manliness. Don't criticize someone's character unless you want to be hit in the face with a book.
2. If you have something critical to say, do not start with something nice that feels condescending, like, "You know what I love about you, Hun?" I have a feeling this isn't about what you love about me, so why don't you just start with your problem with me from the beginning. The positive way you are approaching me is packed and loaded, and I can sense it. So the warm, gushy things you say will not soften the blow. Experts will argue otherwise but, remember, if the person you are talking to is overly sensitive to criticism, he or she is also probably sensitive enough to see through your approach. Just come right out and say you want to talk about something bugging you.
3. Stick to the truth and offer it as a matter of fact. "You did not turn in your hours on Friday. Why?" is better than saying, "You never turn in your hours on Fridays, which makes me feel insignificant and unimportant." That goes nowhere. Be honest and stick to facts, not feelings.
4. Above all, know where you stand in our lives. Do we respect you? Just because you are an acquaintance does not necessarily mean you are valued. Target your message to those who value and respect you and who will benefit from your constructive criticism.
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