I came across a letter that had been written to me 16 years earlier when I first started writing for Powerlifting USA. I still fondly remember the sender - an intelligent, well read man - and the letter's directive. Let me give you the Readers Digest version of what the letter said:
I've been reading your articles in Powerlifting USA for the last six months. A task that hasn't been easy for me. Although your articles are informative, they are tedious as hell. If you want to become a good writer you need to loosen up a little. Put a little intrigue and excitement in your composition. Add a little humor now and then. As it is now I can barely get through your articles without falling asleep. You have talent but if you don't spice things up a little you will eventually lose all of your readers.
Sincerely, L.B. Baker
In all honesty when I first read the letter I got a little upset... O.K. I got real upset. It hurt me, but in my heart I knew that the criticism was justified. Hell, at the time I had trouble reading my own articles without falling asleep. So after considerable thought I decide to follow my critic's advice. I changed my writing style drastically. Instead of using a strictly journalistic style of writing, I started using parables, illustrative and amusing stories to present my material. Guess what happened? Within four months, five different magazines asked me to start writing for them. They said that they found my writing style informative, fun and refreshing. In short, Mr. Baker's criticism of my writing not only helped me grow as a writer, but also opened up a lot of other opportunities for me.
The point of all this is that criticism can be a positive tool that can help us grow. Unfortunately, most people don't see the positive effects that criticism can have on their life. They generally see it as being destructive and demeaning. As indicated though, criticism when used properly can enrich your life. Here are a few suggestions to help you take the sting out of criticism and make it work for you.
Don't let your ego get in the way of learning something. No one likes to hear that they are doing something wrong or that they made a mistake. Still, the fact remains that we all make mistakes. We all have room for improvement. No one is perfect. Mistakes are a part of the human condition. In fact, being human means that we are allowed to make mistakes. Isn't that great news? The real mistake in life is not learning from our mistakes. Remember, success in life is simply the manipulation of errors. The problem many times is that we don't even realize that we are making a mistake. Criticism many times brings to the surface the mistakes that we are making. In short, criticism can make us more aware of our behavior and how we can improve it. With that in mind don't try to avoid criticism. Rather encourage people to evaluate your performance and behavior. The more information you have the easier it is to make the right decisions in life. Look at criticism as a learning experience, something that has a positive side, which is growth and development. Don't let your ego keep you from growing.
Listen to everyone, but consider the source. There is something to learn from everyone, but some people can teach you more then others. When someone criticizes you, determine if the criticism is valid. If your paper boy is constantly trying to correct your deadlift form you may want to get a second opinion, unless your paper boy happens to be Lamar Gant. In other words, consider the source of the criticism. If the source is an expert or an intelligent observer, you may be wise to investigate the criticism closely. Be aware however that some people have a tendency to be extremely negative and critical. It is a good idea to consider the critic's motive. Is he or she genuinely interested in helping you or do they have some other agenda. Some times it's the critic who has the problem. Try to gauge the emotional climate in which the criticism is being given. If your critic is emotionally upset or insecure his or her criticism may not be justified.
If you have heard the criticism more than once it may have merit. When you are criticized repeatedly for the same behavior by more then one source you may want to pay attention to the criticism. That is not to say that you should have straightforward acceptance of the criticism. Listen to everything and everyone, but never just accept criticism as the word o God. Analyze the criticism, and if it's valid, take mind, and then learn from it.
Never counter-attack your critics, when some one criticizes you resist the tendency to fight back. Such a response will cultivate nothing but ill feelings. Even when the criticism is totally destructive and uncalled for it is generally best to just ignore it. Many times what you say is as important as what you don't say. If you counterattack your critic with destructive comments there is a good chance that you will destroy communication lines for future corrective criticism and learning. Sometimes it's hard to hold your tongue especially when the criticism is hurtful, but it is usually worth the effort.
Don't over-react to criticism if someone tells you that you’re bending forward too much when you squat respond only to that specific criticism. Don't generalize. Just because you bend forward too much when you squat does not mean that you are a terrible lifter. It simply means you bend too far forward when you squat. Stay with the specific criticism. Many times people make quantum leaps in logic when they are criticized for a simple behavior. When you make a mistake resist saying to yourself "I can't do anything right, I'm a failure."
'When you receive corrective criticism try to help your critics help you. Develop open lines of intercommunication. This is not always easy but it can be accomplished with a little effort. Richard Graber, a communications expert, suggests the following steps:
1. Be quiet and listen. Rein in your emotions and try to hear what your critic is actually saying.
2. Ask for more information, if needed. A simple "Can you be more specific?" is a good way to start.
3. Ask for a solution, or for help in finding one. "What specifically would you like me to do" often clears the air.
Don't make excuses for your behavior. When you make a mistake resist the tendency to make excuses for your behavior. Offering excuses will only lead to abbreviation of further discussion and criticism. If the criticism is valid take responsibility for your behavior. Remember there is nothing wrong with making a mistake. What is wrong is not correcting a mistake.
Look at criticism as a tool for growth and development. Accepting criticism and making it work for you has a lot to do with your mind set. See criticism as a tool for improving your abilities and personality. People who learn to accept and respond to criticism in a positive manner tend to be more confident, successful, and happier then people who avoid criticism. Remember that the next time someone gives you some helpful criticism.
Yours in Strength,