We think you’re fucking perfect. But we all know that isn’t really true. None of us are, and all of us know that. So why does receiving criticism, which is essentially perfectly reasonable information that we might be doing something wrong or have room to improve, feel like shit? Receiving criticism well is not innate — it’s a skill you can learn that requires you to be one thing: not a little bitch.

What is criticism, tho?
According to the omnipresent overlord Google, criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. This, as the Scots would say, is shite. Criticism is the disapproval of someone’s actions. What Google is describing is judgment.

Discerning between criticism and judgment will help you receive it or say, “fuck off, you judgemental prick.” Criticism is about your action (or lack of), not about your value as a person. Judgement is about your character. But that is some different shit for a different day.

Criticism is data that should inform you of how to move through the world like less of an asshole or how to perform better with work. It’s not inherently bad. Criticism is the tits if it helps us do better at something we care about, whether that’s a relationship or work. Can you imagine barrelling through life doing shit wrong, fucking up left and right, with no one saying anything? 

As Former British Prime Minister and amateur nudist Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things.” 

Well said, old boy. 

But it usually doesn’t feel awesome. It usually feels fucking terrible. But it doesn’t have to. 

The science of being defensive
According to some brilliant scientists, our brains our programmed to pursue what feels pleasant and flee the unpleasant (no shit). Criticism makes us feel shame, which is the most unpleasant of unpleasant feelings Thus, we put our defenses up. We feel threatened. 

“Emotions are automatic, largely unconscious behavioral and cognitive responses triggered when the brain detects a positively or negatively charged significant stimulus. Feelings are the conscious perceptions of emotional responses.”

In a study examining the connection between personality traits and receptivity to feedback, conscientiousness and openness were the strongest predictors of receptivity. Study participants whose personality traits included neuroticism were less likely to be receptive to feedback. You don’t say. 

Who is delivering?
Receiving criticism like the open and conscientiousness and non-neurotic badass you are starts with who is delivering it. We subscribe to the belief that if someone who loves you, respects you and knows you well is offering criticism, consider the insane possibility that they’re probably fucking right. And, it’s probably an act of love intended to improve your relationship or affect your life in a positive way.

If someone who doesn’t know you well offers criticism, they still might be right.

If someone who doesn’t like you offers criticism, they still might be right.

If someone you wouldn’t trade places with for all the tea in China, then, it’s probably a good idea to smile and nod while ignoring them.  

What is the intention?
How quickly can you act on the criticism? Is it a behavior you can change right away? Is the giver of criticism noticing a behavior that is causing your life to suck in one way or another? Are they noticing that you are getting in your own way? Is the intention to reduce friction in your life or improve performance? If the person offering criticism isn’t being straightforward, fucking ask. 

“When did you start noticing?”

“What do you think I could do instead?”

“How do you think I can communicate better?”

“How does (insert behavior) affect you?”

“How do you think (insert behavior) is affecting my performance?” 

These are all things you should be able to ask someone as a grown adult living on planet Earth.

Keep it Fonzi 
Unless you have successfully made your inner critic your bitch, it will gleefully awaken from its slumber during criticism, ready to glob onto what is being said to beat you over the head with. 

Fuck that. 

So keep your cool, inside and out. Fucking breath. Focus on the words that are being said, not how your inner critic wants to bastardize them to mitigate your human value. Remember that you are a human being, and you’re not above reproach. Appreciate the opportunity to rectify a behavior that might be harming you or others, or just to fucking improve on something you care about.

Say thank you
For fucks sake, thank the person who offered you criticism. Even if they are a total dickhead and are entirely wrong, nothing is more baller than smiling in the face of a whiney little bitch who is slinging destructive criticism your way and saying, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I appreciate it!” 

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