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Criticism: Foe or Friend?

None of us like being criticised.  At least no-one I’ve ever met!  Our common responses include throwing up our defences, attacking back, or crumpling in a mental heap!  We get angry, hurt, distressed.  Criticism can end friendships and start wars.  But what if we could turn that on its head.  What if a well delivered criticism could strengthen bonds and forge resolution to conflicts?

Sometime ago, I made a decision that resulted in a few of my closest friends being critical of my actions, and, strange as it may seem, I love them even more for it. “Seriously?” I hear you ask “WHY?”

Well, ideally, good friendships are strong enough to endure differences.  How much better to be able to talk about our different opinions, than to hide them away for fear of upsetting each other.  It makes for much more authentic relationships and ones that we can truly trust.

The fact is we ARE all different.  How dull life would be if we were all the same and could offer nothing more than agreement? How many ideas would never have got off the ground? How may good inventions would never become great?

“It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl…” Stephen King

Criticism keeps me awake to what’s important.  It makes me stop and think, rather than sleepwalking into something I haven’t fully thought through.  There are many perspectives of the same situation.  Being able to consider more than just my own feels like a privilege.

This is because I have a choice about how I respond to others criticism.  It is THEIR opinion, and they are as entitled to it as I am to mine.  Whether or not it upsets me is down to me, in just the same way, I can decide if a compliment is going to make my day.  I once asked a friend if my butt looked big in the dress I was wearing.  He said, “YES – and it looks gorgeous.” You decide which bit if that statement to take to heart!

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so: Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

A criticism is simply someone else’s opinion that seems at odds with our own.  When it accords with our opinion, it is a compliment (of sorts). Our power is in deciding what to do with that opinion.  

Try to examine criticism as if it were an interesting piece of news. Look at it from all angles, consider which bits of it you might agree with; try to understand where the deliverer of the criticism is coming from and see it as an opportunity to learn something. After all, there may be an element of truth in someone else’s point of view, in which case we would be wise to take notice.

And years later, those friendships are as strong as ever!

Prof Jo Clarke

Oct 2021

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