Welcoming in 2013 this week, and thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Like most people, I think about things I’d like to change. I’d love to lose some weight, stick to an exercise plan, and in general manage my life a little better. Who wouldn’t, right? These are things most of us struggle with. But they’re not on my list this year. It’s been done to death.
No this year I want to work on something a little more internal. It occurred to me that I am not good at accepting constructive criticism. Or criticism. Or even feedback really. It’s a bad character trait and one that I know holds me back.
I believe because like most people, my first reaction to any kind of criticism is to defend. Sometimes even defend AND attack. We often take critiques as a blow to who we are as opposed to something we’ve done, and this activates our defenses. The shame in this is we don’t take the time to really listen to what is being communicated and use this information to improve ourselves when this happens.
When looked at from a long enough perspective, all of life involves feedback. When we smile at a pretty girl in a bar and they don’t smile back, that’s feedback. When we tell what we think is a hilarious joke and people nervously chuckle and drop eye contact, that’s also feedback. (Those two are fresh in my mind after New Year’s Eve).. Every laugh, smile, nod, and even raised eyebrow communicates something to people, and we are all constantly in a state of reinforcement and communication with each other. It’s kind of fascinating actually.
A caveat to accepting feedback is that there ARE people out there who seem to exist for the sole purpose of snuffing out the dreams of others. These people don’t create anything themselves, but are quick to constantly belittle the work of others. If you have someone like this in your life, do your best to separate yourself from them. Their attitude says a lot more about them than the things they say about you.
But ultimately, when we do create something, we have to understand that not everyone is going to “get” something in the way we intended. Maybe we didn’t communicate it very well, or glossed over something, or were too obscure in the way we made our artistic choices. When this happens we have an opportunity to listen closely and try and understand where we lost people. This is how we get better.
It rarely seems to happen that way however. We get hurt that people don’t appreciate our efforts, and we use a whole series of defense mechanisms to deal with this hurt. We may attack the messenger because we dislike the message. Or we may rationalize that other people’s opinions don’t matter, or that they are simply mean-spirited, or not creatively minded.
This doesn’t apply only to artistic creations either. Most of us like the kind of feedback that reinforces our view of the world as well as ourselves, but get very defensive when this feedback goes the other way, which it invariably does. But maybe this is when we should start paying attention the most. Carl Jung said “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Think about that for a moment. I know personally I often get irritated by loud people who try and steal the center of attention. Hmmmmm..
Not hard to figure that one out.
I would guess if we think hard enough we could all think of someone like that, and if we think even harder, we may eventually come to understand some things we’d like to change about ourselves. That’s feedback. And when we really put aside our own pride and defensiveness, there is a whole lot of instruction there as to how we can begin to improve ourselves. We don’t always KNOW how we are being perceived, and often because of this, we can get locked into our own perspective. Perhaps Anais Nin said it best, “We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Seems pretty accurate.
So personally I’m going to work on this a little this year and try not to be defensive when others have opinions about something that differ greatly from my own. Although there is often a temporary sting of rejection when we take in criticism, we can use this as a motivation to change things for the better, which is a goal that can benefit almost anyone. I know I could certainly benefit from listening a little more closely. I think we all probably could.