What we can learn from stoics about dealing with criticism

Every now and then we come across a critic. Sometimes it is a family member, a friend, or simply a random stranger or a keyboard warrior on the Internet.

It is funny that ever since I got the idea to write on this subject yesterday I have been “attracting” critics into my life, which had not been happening before. As if the universe was testing me 🙂

 

Let’s take the opportunity to learn from the ancient wisdom of stoics how to deal with criticism.

Whoever the criticism comes from, our natural response is to feel attacked. When we feel attacked, we get defensive and we might say or do things we would not normally do. Sometimes our loved ones get hurt by our ‘witty’ come-back. Other times our business gets hurt by a public reply on social media.

What stoics believed in was taking full responsibility of your actions (and inactions).

“Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Always assume the best

When a person criticises you, they do it for different reasons. A mother screams at her child because she is afraid of it.

A customer might criticize your product because they care and want it to be better. Other times they might be missing love and they misplace their lack of love and focus on trying to feel important by the critique.

 

Whatever the reason is, it is in your best interest to always assume the best – consider people innocent until proven guilty.

When you respond with thoughtfulness, understanding and caring, you come from a very different place compared to responding from a place of hurt and anger. A mindful answer can turn haters into fans, unsatisfied customers to promoters of your brand and argument between partners in can be turned into a stronger relationship.

 

Take a Deep breath and Respond

To be able to respond, you need not to react. The difference between reacting and responding is that former is like a reflex. When there is a lion about to jump us, we try to jump away or run. Or if somebody is about to hit us, we might try to hit back. Or in some cases, play death (freeze). Our nervous system immediately fires-up our defense mechanism to fight or flight or freeze to preserve our life.

 

But in the modern times we face mental challenges more often than physical so while there might not be a lion trying to hunt you, we might feel similarly threatened by outer critics. Our reflexes tell us to fight (say or write something in anger) or flight (escape the situation by emotional eating) or freeze (not saying or doing anything at all).

 

 

To detach yourself from the situation, take a deep breath, think about their positive intentions and respond accordingly. It might take you a few moments at first, but with practice you will be able to handle most situations with cold head.

Don’t care about what critics think

 “The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

If the criticism is not serious and inadequate, is there a point in reacting? Do you think you can ‘school’ the person into being more mindful next time? Probably not. Most of the time it is just a waste of energy.

In these cases simply smile and continue with your day. Bonus points for wishing them the best of luck!

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