I got some negative feedback at work today, and immediately became extremely defensive. I’d like to blame it on the fact that I’ve been sleep-deprived, but… I’m beginning to think that it’s a destructive behavior that’s come out several times in the past few years. After giving myself some time to think about the situation, I started analyzing the pattern, and noticed that the way I respond to criticism comes in predictable stages:
- Denial. The first time I hear criticism, my initial response is to brush it off. Sure I make mistakes sometimes, but I’m not careless–maybe someone else made the mistake!
- Anger. I hate having my shortcomings and missteps pointed out, even when it’s justified! It’s completely irrational to be angry about constructive criticism, but it’s not the rational part of my brain that reacts first. I begin to feel mistreated, misunderstood, and, well… angry.
- Determination. Now that I’ve been called out, I must defend myself. I start searching for evidence that I’ve done everything right–evidence that sometimes starts to seem flimsy and unjustified.
- Introspection. Taking a step back and looking at the evidence in front of me, I start to view the situation (and my role in it) with more clarity. I think about how I went wrong, how I can fix it… and whether I might need to apologize to someone.
- Acceptance. If I discover there was truth in the criticism, I eventually acknowledge that I have to take it in and try to learn from it. This stage may take a long time. Or maybe a very, very long time! (There have been cases where something someone said about me years ago will surface in my mind and suddenly click…) In any case, accepting that I have room to grow is the first step in making positive changes.
In a perfect world, I’d be able to skip to acceptance without going through the other (pointless) stages before. However, even if I can’t always control my emotional reaction, I am working on controlling the way I respond in situations like this!