Dr. Khalid Al-Seghayer
Interacting and communicating effectively with others involves a number of social skills, among which is the ability to accept and profit from constructive criticism. From my observation, I believe that a substantial number of people here in Saudi Arabia take constructive criticism mostly as a personal attack and, as such, retaliate in the same vein, and therefore get little or no value or benefit from it.
If you happen to be one of those who react in this way, here are some suggestions which should enable you to handle criticism more effectively and to benefit from it as well. Instead of seeing only the negative side of the criticism, try to understand what the other person is trying to say. Most importantly, make sure that you avoid overreacting to the criticism and that you consider how you can make use of the critic’s opinions.
Getting defensive, as we instinctively very often do, can ruin a real opportunity to learn and make a positive change in our lives.
Once you feel that you understand what your critic is saying, you should move to the next step in which you assess the person who is expressing the opinion. You should consider a number of things including attempting to understand his motives and determining to what extent emotions are involved.
Additionally, you should try your best to see if what is being said is based on valid information, and whether the person is playing a game and attempting to belittle you.
Finally, you should assess to what extent your critic is attempting to compete with you.
If you reach the conclusion that the criticism is indeed accurate, then solicit all the information and help that you need. In other words, seek more information through questioning, paraphrase, and the use of reflective response, and then affirm the accuracy of your critic and thank him for communicating with you. Subsequently, try to act to take advantage of the positive points that your critic has made.
I shared these recommendations with Salem, a high school teacher, who had expressed concern over the lack of a proper approach in dealing with criticism that his colleagues at school display on a daily basis. He reported that they were very effective measures and stressed that he found them important to optimal conflict resolution and to maintaining relationships with integrity. Most importantly, he added, he became more aware of how to accept and better respond to seemingly meaningful criticism.
By the same token, if your evaluation of the criticism leads you to believe that it is not valid or even that it
is prejudiced, then by all means discount the opinion. If, however, you choose to counterattack, make sure that you do it logically and politely and avoid inconsiderate personal attacks.
Most importantly, your response to criticism must be centered on what has been said, not on how it has been said or the person who has said it.
I would like to let you go with this final thought: always assess the opinion of others without judging the person, and consciously choose the best technique when responding to criticism. Stay away from being egocentric and adopting an I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong attitude. Instead you should learn to appreciate that criticism is something of value to be given and received. Finally, remember that there will always be someone who criticizes our efforts, the results of our efforts, or both, and as such avoid taking it personally and respond to the substance not the tone of the criticism. Do your best to learn from criticism as it will allow you to grow and improve yourself.
The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.