Saturday, February 16, 2013

Question of the Week #29: How Well Do You Handle Criticism?

That moment when someone criticizes you. They might not even mean to do so, but the words are out there and the instantaneous flash of emotion has roiled up inside you.

This is one of those dangerous moments that can create all sorts of conflict between couples, friends, family members, co-workers ... you name a relationship and criticism is a great way to muck things up.

Or not, depending on how the two of you handle the situation. And this really is a matter for the two of you, because two related but entirely different skill sets come into play.

Let's suppose your significant other asks you this: "Hey Hon, what do you think of these shoes?" And let's further assume you don't particularly like those shoes. Which of these responses would be closest to your style?
  • "They look great!" (Avoiding handing out a criticism, even if it means being less than truthful.)
  • "Maybe ... what do you think?" (Does that fence hurt?)
  • "Oh you know me, I really like your black shoes, so anything else just pales in comparison." (Trying to deliver the negative message so it sounds like a positive.)
  • "You've always been terrible at picking out shoes!" (Hey, when you believe you're right, go in with all guns blazing. Hopefully you've got the divorce lawyer on speed dial.)
What if you're the one wearing the shoes and you got the message loud and clear - your partner thinks your ability to choose shoes sucks. Be honest now - how do you tend to react?
  • You recognize the value of an honest opinion and are happy for the help.
  • You feel an immediate flash of anger but you manage to stop yourself from responding in kind.
  • "Oh yeah? Well what about those ugly brown things you always wear every time we go to your mother's?"
We're all human, so most of us manage to let criticisms fall out of our mouth from time to time, whether intentionally or otherwise. And it's easy for your feelings to get hurt when you're the one being criticized.

Are there are other factors for you too, such as whether the topic is something that feels particularly important to you? What if you're tired or already grouchy? How about if the two of you have been at each other's throats about other things just before the shoe debacle went down? Would you tend to react differently?

There are a number of actions that can reduce tension in situations like this, like making it clear you're doing everything you can to avoid giving offense, or offering a sincere apology. What have you found that works for when you need to calm the waters?

How important do you think this issue ranks in terms of factors that threaten the harmony of our relationships? I'd love to hear about your opinions and experiences.

All the best,


  1. You have to pick your battles...then take cover in the other person's foxhole...
    Thanks for stopping by "begin...begin again"!

  2. I think we are all to some extent better at dishing out crititicism (albeit sometimes inadvertently, as you say) than we are at taking it! My DH would probably tell you that I'm one of the worst offenders! Apologising, as you say, goes a long way. I agree that people's reactions are often dependent on how they are feeling at the time, how stressed they are, etc. I for one can take just about anything that's levelled at me when I have had a good night's sleep.