When someone gives you constructive criticism on something, do you react defensively? Chances are you learned the defense mechanism to protect yourself from bullies or generic bullying while growing up. Wanting to protect your feelings is natural, no one wants to feel badly about something they’ve said or done. At the same time, feedback on our words and actions is useful input for learning and self-growth.
So how can you train yourself to overcome this learned behavior? Are there any tricks and tips to remember that may help? Fortunately, the answer is YES. Keep reading – I’ve outlined some things to remember next time you feel yourself getting defensive about something.
Understand Your Defense Triggers
Examine your past. Unresolved issues from previous relationships and situations can be the cause of that feeling of being judged unfairly. Are you responding to the immediate situation or are you caught up in attempting to justify yourself to someone like a parent or ex-spouse? Also, consider the source of critiques on your current behaviors. You might be okay with criticism and feedback unless it comes from a stranger or someone you don’t get along with. Keep in mind that strangers and adversaries may bring up valuable information your loved ones tiptoe around.
You might also want to reframe conflicts and shift your mindset. Why? Well, there is an upside to airing grievances: disagreements brought out into the open can be resolved instead of festering into something worse. The process of collaborating on solutions tends to deepen the connection between colleagues, friends, and family, too. You can also look at this feedback as an opportunity to grow instead of a sign that you flunked some big test. Choose to feel empowered rather than threatened by affirming your value. Remembering your accomplishments as a top salesperson or gourmet cook will give you the confidence you need to brush up in other areas.
Work on Communication Skills
You’ll also need to work on your communication skills. Slow down and listen to your body. Pause for a deep breath to allow yourself time to calm down and hear what’s being said. That way you can decide how to respond instead of automatically shutting down or lashing out. If being defensive has become a really bad habit, you may need to watch yourself closely and notice if your pulse is racing or your jaw has become clenched.
Face your fears, and face your feelings. It can be hard to look at ourselves honestly and navigate a sensitive conversation. Many people choose to close themselves off rather than acknowledge their stressed or uncomfortable. It only makes dealing with the emotions at a later date much more difficult, so face your fear of your feelings head on. Also, avoid retaliation. Your first impulse may be to strike back by pointing out flaws in others. That isn’t wise and, in my opinion, showcases your own immaturity in sinking to their level. You’re better off resisting the temptation to retaliate as you’ll likely have a much more productive discussion.
Instead of retaliating, you can offer validation by letting others know you respect their opinions and want to understand their point of view. Repeat back what you heard in your own words. This will give you time to think and show that you’re sincere about collaborating on solutions. It will also allow you to search for the truth. Sometimes criticism is off-base and delivered without good intentions behind it. Before you dismiss it entirely, however, remember that there may still be some valid insights buried in there. Think it over or ask someone you trust to help you sort it out and suggest alternatives. Skillfully receiving criticism doesn’t always mean acting upon it – that decision is up to you. You may want or feel it necessary to explain your position and express your willingness to work things out some other way.
Constructive criticism can help you enjoy more happiness and success. Being open to comments and criticism will also strengthen your relationships and put you on the path to achieving your full potential. Do you have other tips or ideas on how one could decrease defensive reactions to criticism? Share them in the comments below!
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