Homaira Kabir
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How To Use Criticism To Your Advantage — And Not To Shame Yourself

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This article first appeared on Forbes

Let’s face it, none of us likes being criticized. Regardless of the reasons or the validity of the criticism, it feels like a blow to our basic desire to be liked, accepted and appreciated. And because we’re biologically programmed to avoid negativity like the plague, our ability to maintain perspective and gain from criticism is a skill that does not come naturally to us.

Nurturing this ability is to our advantage, especially in the competitive and emotionally charged workplaces of the 21st century, where the drive to succeed may blind us to our own faults. Having outside perspective on a situation protects us from what renowned positive psychology coach and author Caroline Adams Miller calls “stupid grit.” Her research on grit has found that individuals can sometimes pursue a path that is not bringing out the best in them, often for reasons that may lie below conscious awareness such as a desire to prove oneself. In such situations, it’s the candid opinion of others that can be enormously helpful.

Here are 4 rules to remember so you gain from criticism and use it to grow towards your highest potential.

Rule 1: Know The Source

People criticize for a myriad of reasons. Trying to take in everyone’s two cents worth would be as fruitless as the father’s efforts to please everyone in the fable of the man, the boy and the donkey. It’s important to sift through criticisms and decide which ones are worth paying attention to. One easy way of doing so is to ask yourself a few questions. Does this person know me well? Is this person qualified to judge? And, especially in the workplace, do I need to get along with this person—perhaps your boss? If you answered yes to any one of these questions, the criticism is likely worth listening to.

Rule 2: Balance Your Perspective—Don’t Shame Yourself

Once you’ve decided to pay attention to the criticism, it’s important to hold it in the larger perspective of the full situation. Instead of getting caught up in what went wrong—and even beating yourself up for it—balance your perspective by also considering what went right. What were the inner and outer resources that led to the positive? Can you harness them again or further? This balanced approach will buffer you with your strengths, and fuel you with hope to bring about change in the areas you need to improve, rather than allow the criticism to occupy your mind and bring you down.

Rule 3: Decide To Win Or Learn

This can be hard, especially for those of us who depend on other people’s feedback to feel good about ourselves. And for women, this is not that uncommon—even Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg admits to seeking a little too much approval. It helps to remember that no one is expected to be great at everything. But each of us can learn and grow in areas that are important to us. See if you can use the criticism to develop what Professor Carol Dweck at Stanford University calls a Growth Mindset—the ability to focus on the learning instead of the outcome, and to use it to gain from the experience rather than get stuck because of it.

Rule 4: Don’t Take It Personally

Now this is easier said than done! And especially for women because of our stronger emotional circuitry in the brain. But if you find yourself getting overly sensitive about the feedback you’ve received, and ruminating endlessly about it, create emotional distance by picking up a pen and writing down the key takeaways as factual bullet points. This helps in keeping the baby, while throwing out the bathwater. And if you find that the criticism is clearly not about you at all, but about the fears, concerns or frustrations of the person delivering it, then work at tuning out such advice (and such people) by building mental boundaries.

Because here’s the good news! The better you become at managing criticism, the stronger you will be at managing the critical voice in your own head. Because we all have it. And those of us who succeed in life are those who have learned to heed it when needed, and let it wash off them like Teflon when not.

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