I recently got an email from a high-profile TV personality and colleague of mine. She's not only well known, but very successful and well respected in her field. She was in the middle of writing an article about women and criticism, Inspired by Hillary Clinton's advice to her younger self, "To take criticism seriously but not personally." My colleague loved this idea and admitted she, too, struggled with this concept.
Being in the public eye, I can certainly relate to those who are subject to scrutiny. It's the by product of being visible in a media-conscious world. So it raised this interesting question: Why do we as women take negative feed back so personally? And if we are in fact wired to feel wounded by these verbal attacks, what can we do to protect ourselves emotionally?
Both men and women can take criticism personally. No one likes to be criticized. It's certainly more fun and ego enhancing to be complimented than critiqued. Having said that, I do think women may be particularly vulnerable to criticism in a way men are not, because we define our successes in life by the way people experience us. Women tend to be the nurturers in a relationship. Our friendships, from childhood on, are also more intimate than male friendships tend to be. So, if the people around us aren't happy with us, we tend to internalize this displeasure. At times, negative feedback can interfere with our ability to feel good about ourselves and thus inhibit our ability to function at our optimal level. Women are already more vulnerable to depression and might be more inclined to go into a self-attack mode after being verbally attacked.
A psychology professor once told me, critiquing should never be taken personally. These negative assaults are always based on the person's internalized experience, perception or distortion of you. Interesting idea! But it does take practice to be able to separate the knee-jerk hurt reaction to criticism, and be able to tease out the piece which may be useful to you. And in some cases, none of it may be particularly useful!
There are people out there, "The Haters," who do and say things just to be mean or hurtful, which of course is their choice. But your choice is to make the most of this experience that periodically might come your way. I think it's best to look at criticism in two ways. Number one, as a chance to learn how to be or get better, and secondly, as a chance to surpass the person who is delivering the critique. It is easier said than done. I know that. But learning from all that occurs to us is certainly a life skill worth cultivating, especially if you plan to go into a high-profile profession. Giving some thought about how to make the most out of criticism, I've outlined some effective steps to help women or men, to get the most out of an unsettling experience:
1. Determine which part of the criticism is useful.
2. Tease out the aggression and ask yourself what makes sense.
3. Keep the message that's important to you and filter out the rest.
4. Separate the advice from your feelings. Turn on that objective eye!
5. Transform the useful advice into your goals. Make that list.
6. Adjust your outlook. Look at criticism as a chance to grow and get better.
I think Hillary Clinton's advice to her younger self is exactly right: "Take criticism seriously, but not personally!" Dealing with criticism may always be a little tough, but it's important to use these situations as an opportunity to get better, be better and learn how to be our very best selves!