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A Better You
by Jo Ann Fore

Constructive Criticism

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
~ Winston Churchill

How do you respond to criticism? Do you fear it, rise up in defense, or avoid it at all costs? Do you recognize its value, seek it out, and respond to it? The answer for most would likely depend on the intent of the criticism. Is it healthy, constructive criticism; or the unfavorable opinion of a negative onlooker? It’s important to differentiate between the two.

Constructive criticism can be a powerful tool. Criticism is productive when used with the intent of helping, improvement, or offering solutions. It’s helpful when someone – in a friendly manner – offers an honest opinion about you that fosters improvement. Hostile criticism, however, often evolves from a wrong motive. Many who are quick to criticize you negatively do so in an attempt to divert from their own shortcomings. Most comments of negative criticism are merely personal opinion – and usually not true.


Regardless, it is difficult not to become defensive when criticized. But you really do need criticism in your life. Just remember: There could be something to what you’re hearing. To foster your personal growth, listen carefully the next time someone offers up some advice. First, be discerning about the intent, and then act accordingly. When you learn to actively seek positive input from others – constructive criticism – you can learn from it.

If you’re like most people, you don’t like being criticized. I understand: It’s a blow to the ego. Everyone wants to be received in the best light possible. And if others discover a flaw, you feel they’ll think less of you. Detach from your ego for a moment, and drop your guard. You may uncover a blind spot that needs your attention. When you listen, and address the shortcoming, you become a better person.

Receiving Criticism
As you mature, the benefits of constructive criticism become more apparent. However, you need to be prepared to receive it. Emotional preparation is the key. You need to know in advance, you will hear some things you don’t want to. Bear in mind, your ultimate goal is improvement, and this is a great step towards that goal.

Gregg Walker, Dept. of Speech Communication, Oregon State University, offers the following advice for dealing with criticism:

1. Recognize the value of constructive criticism. Such criticism can improve relationships and productivity.

2. Engage in perspective taking or role reversal. Try to understand the perspective of the person offering criticism.

3. Acknowledge criticism that focuses on your behavior. Attempt to transform criticism that seems directed at your "person" to specific behavioral issues.

4. Listen actively. Even though criticism may hurt, seek to understand accurately the criticism being presented.
a. Paraphrase what the other is saying.
b. Ask questions to increase understanding.
c. Check out nonverbal displays (check your perceptions).

5. Work hard to avoid becoming defensive. Resist any tendency to want to dismiss criticism or retaliate.

6. Welcome criticism; use the criticism appropriate to improve.

7. Maintain your interpersonal power and authority to make your own decisions. Criticism, when directed at one's "person," may weaken one's resolve. Focus the other's criticism on your actions. Seek ownership of solutions.

8. Seek constructive changes to the behavior that prompted the criticism.

9. Insist on valid criticism. Valid criticism:
a. addresses behaviors.
b. is timely.
c. is specific.

10. Communicate clearly how you feel and think about the criticism and receiving criticism. Use "I" messages.

Where to Find Healthy Criticism
Is there an area in your life where you could benefit from constructive criticism? Do you repeatedly fail at some things; financial management, relationships, or even weight control? These are prime areas where insight from others helps.

While you might be ready to admit that criticism is a necessary evil, you may not be willing to risk your closest friendship to obtain it. Don’t worry, there are alternatives. When seeking input from others, consider the following resources:

Fashion Consultants
My husband is a great example of putting constructive criticism to use. My husband dresses fashionably. But it wasn’t always that way. Apparently before I met him, his oldest daughter had some straightforward advice for him in the fashion arena. “Oh Dad!” she cried. “Surely you aren’t going out looking like that.” She shared fashion tips with him that he still draws from today.

If you don’t have an older child who is a wealth of fashion trends – consider going to an upscale, trendy clothing shop. Ask for their top salesperson. Unashamedly admit your lack of fashion sense, and ask for help. They will be more than willing to accommodate you.

Image Consultants
Each time I walk into my doctor’s office, I am greeted by a young woman. A pretty young woman, with way too much makeup. So much makeup she looks like a clown. I’m not kidding. There are about ten other people that work in that office with her, but apparently no one has been willing to risk vulnerability with her to share the truth. It’s a shame. She could be a pretty girl, but the way it is now, she’s actually very hard to look at.

If you’re concerned with your appearance, walk into one of the major department stores and sit down at the cosmetics counter. These people make a living making people look good. And they give free makeovers and advice. You can pick up some great tips.

Financial Consultants
I have a young friend who recently turned 18. Burning for independence, she isn’t open to receiving constructive criticism right now. Yet, her finances are a disaster. The other day, she admitted she was overdrawn at the bank – several hundred dollars. She doesn’t record her financial transactions in her check book, and tries to keep up with it in her head. It isn’t working. Once she matures and is receptive to insight, there’s a wealth of information available to her in this area.

Many local banks are great about sitting with first time bankers, and explaining the mechanics of maintaining an account. Again, just ask. And for more mature individuals who need help with financial management, investments, and more, there are financial consultants who will sit and review your financial standing and help you set goals. A great book for anyone who is struggling with maintaining a financial budget is Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover.

In most any area there is someone available, with an unbiased opinion, who can offer the perspective you need to help you improve. Be open to criticism, it is necessary. You can achieve greater personal growth if you remember to focus on the constructive elements of it. Even though criticism is painful, it pays great dividends.

Jo Ann Fore welcomes your comments about this article or suggestions for material you would like to see in future articles. Email her at: A Better You is published every Saturday.


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