Have you ever been given unwelcomed criticism? I’m talking about the times when you had a “backseat driver” or someone hovering over your shoulder, telling you exactly how they would have done things differently. It’s annoying; it’s degrading; it’s common. It’s also hard to respond to gracefully. Unwelcomed criticism can come from anywhere- your partner, your parents, her parents, a friend, a co-worker, your kids, or even a random stranger. What do you do when you’re placed in this kind of situation? Do you tend to become offended? Do you dismiss the advice? Do you get angry? This week, we are going to discuss some simple tips to handle unwelcomed criticism effectively. If we can handle these times well, not only do we nurture the relationship we have with the advice-giver, but we might also learn a thing or two along the way.

So, why does unwelcomed criticism bother us in the first place? I suspect that it comes from a common fear among us men- the fear that we are inadequate. In my opinion, there is nothing scarier to a man than to know that there is something demanded of him, but he doesn’t have what it takes to succeed. When someone challenges our knowledge of a subject, the accuracy of our efforts, or the skill at which we accomplish a task, that fear begins to surface. Whether we are aware of it or not, we ask ourselves two questions, “Why am I not succeeding in…?” and “What does this say about me?” Pride begins to kick in to mask our fear. We tell ourselves that our way is best, that we don’t need any advice, and/or the advice-giver isn’t worth our attention. This is not a recipe for success.

How do we handle unwelcomed criticism then? I have a few suggestions that might help us to manage our emotions, respect the relationship, and open our minds to new ideas or possibilities. Here are a few things we can try:

  • Hear the fear– expect that this fear is present when you are given advice. Know that it will attempt to motivate your actions if left unchallenged. Take note of how receiving the advice makes you feel and how you might wish to respond. Choose not to act until you are satisfied with a healthy response.
  • Give yourself some slack– it’s not reasonable to assume that you will always have the answers, will perform perfectly, or that you can accomplish every task without assistance. If you can give yourself the freedom to make mistakes and learn from others, then you will be less likely to react negatively to some feedback. The truth is- you don’t always have what it takes, and that’s okay. Growing and learning are what make great men great.
  • Let go of pride– when others are offering advice, it does not truly pose a danger to us. It may hurt our pride, but not really anything else. Therefore, it is not appropriate for us to try to harm others with our words or actions when we respond. We must conduct ourselves as honorable men, even when we do not believe others are being honorable. I know, easier said than done. But, this is what a Rock Solid dad is aiming for.
  • Accept the assistance– Why do people offer advice in the first place? Because they want you to succeed- for your benefit, for their benefit, or possibly a little of both. Whether you agree with their motives for aiding you or not, what they are offering you can be a valuable resource. Make the most of what you have, even if it comes from undesired places. Ask yourself- “Is there anything I can glean from this?” or “Is there any truth to what he/she is saying?” If so, have the courage to do something about it. Try new things and entertain a fresh perspective.
  • Let the person know you appreciate wholesome feedback– Say “thank you,” “you have a point” or “good idea.” When we acknowledge the criticism that we are given in a positive manner, we accomplish two things: 1) we let the person know that we are taking what they are saying into consideration. This may very well shut down what could later be an argument, and it often appeases the person’s concerns; 2) we remind ourselves that some constructive criticism is good for the soul. By showing appreciation, we are more likely to internalize the information that we are given and accept that it has value to us.
  • Know the difference between constructive criticism and verbal abuse– There is a difference between saying “I would do it this way instead…” and “You did it that way? Really? What are you, stupid?” One of these statements offers a solution that could be acted upon and tested to discern its effectiveness. The other is just mean. You can discourage verbal abuse by holding an assertive stance (as mentioned in the post “Take A Stand”) and encouraging true advice.

Ironically, as I was in the process of writing this post, I was given some constructive criticism by one of my co-workers. I went down the list that I just presented to you. I felt that the fear and the pride rise up. I wanted to make excuses for why my way was best. I wanted to get defensive. Now, looking back, I am glad that I had chosen to take the advice. It was healthy for me and those around me to try new strategies and to care for the considerations of others. It wasn’t easy for me, as I imagine that following this “not-asked-for advice” will be for you. However, I truly believe these strategies will make meaningful improvements in your life and in your relationships. Give them a try.

Got any feedback you would like to share about this post? Let’s entertain those thoughts as well. Feel free to leave a comment if you agree or disagree with anything that was shared.

As always, stay Rock Solid, dads!