Handling Criticism Assertively
In this, the third of our articles on assertiveness, we turn our attention to criticism and how to handle it. More often than not when we hear something that sounds like a criticism (or is one), we automatically accept it and think it MUST be true, whether it is or not! We react passively and say nothing. No-one likes criticism, though it can help us to grow and understand ourselves better; there is no need to rush around in a panic trying to make yourself faultless, or to close off to criticism altogether, and like any other situation, it can be handled assertively if you know how.
The Three types of criticism:
Criticism can be divided into three categories: valid criticism, invalid criticism and put-downs, and there are assertive ways to handle all three.
1Valid Criticism is criticism you know to be legitimate, e.g. you change your mind a lot or you are untidy.
Instead of over apologising, feeling sorry for yourself or reacting aggressively (“how dare you!”) simply acknowledge the criticism. “Yes, I agree, I do change my mind a lot”. If you do this your critic cannot say anymore and you will feel less defensive and more accepting of yourself.
If someone criticises you for a characteristic, which is true but which you like about yourself, e.g. “You are always so impulsive” - then do not apologise for it. Try saying “Yes I know, I am impulsive, I rather like that about myself, it makes my life more exciting”.
2 Invalid Criticism includes those comments and accusations which you know are untrue, for example “You are unkind”.
If it is an unfair criticism, refute it with confidence immediately “I don’t agree with you at all, that is completely untrue” or “that may be your perception of me but I don’t accept it”.
3 Put Downs are indirect comments about you intended to be taken as criticism. As women we have probably all ‘suffered’ our fair share of put downs over the years; how many times have you heard derogatory comments about women drivers, for example? Often the other person is deliberately trying to make you angry. So how can you deal assertively with these comments? If you say you feel put down at the time, it is likely that you will be met by another put down, e.g. “You were imagining it” or “You are always so touchy”. Don’t give them the satisfaction! You can handle these put downs as invalid criticism (as we saw above) – “actually statistics show that women make better drivers than men which is why their insurance premiums are lower!”or make some comment like “Don’t think I’m going to rise to the bait on that one!” and move on to another topic quickly!
Criticism can be used wisely - that is if you listen to it and weigh it up for yourself. There is much to be learned by listening to the perception of others but it can be painful and uncomfortable at first.
To help you get more clarity on the subject, try this exercise. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side make a list of valid criticisms and on the other invalid criticisms. You need to take a bit of time over this and don’t give yourself a hard time about it; after all none of us is perfect! Once you have your two lists, you will be clearer about which assertive approach to take the next time someone criticises you.