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How To Be Bullet Proof From Criticism

Dec 7, 2007
Let me first say that criticism can be useful. In fact, we need to be able to hear and process this kind of feedback in order to progress in life. Otherwise we could become myopic, arrogant or even delusional about our abilities, knowledge and competence. And this kind of attitude, would make it hard to improve our performance or behaviours.

But, words can hurt and the hurt can go deep. The pain can last for years, even lifetimes, and severely constrain peoples lives. Comments can also be meant in other ways than we take them and with no intent to hurt in the first place. There are two ideas I will cover I this article.

Fact or Opinion?
First of all, let me ask a simple and seemingly obvious question, 'Do you know the difference between a fact and an opinion?'A fact is something that is provable. It can be tested and shown to be true. An opinion is someones ideas or perspective about something. Hold a pen in your hand. Now if you were to say, `This is a beautiful pen' is that a fact or an opinion? Obviously that is an opinion. I might think the same pen was unattractive or any other subjective remark. If on the other hand you were holding a red pen and you stated 'This is a red pen' that would be a statement of fact. One is objective and the other subjective. Now this may all seem obvious but there is an important point here.

Too often people will state their opinions as fact, whereas it is merely their opinion.

So if someone calls you a 'goose' (the language could be a lot worse, just insert your words of choice!) check out how you look. Have you suddenly grown feathers, started walking with a waddle and feel inclined towards making honking sounds? In which case, it could be a fact! Get yourself to the nearest doctor (or vet) and see what they can do for you.

If however, no, you haven not changed your physical appearance, then it is just someones opinion. And here is the burning question. Whose opinion of you is the most important?

Who decides your worth?
Now at some stages of life, we make the opinion of other people more important than ours. Teenage years are one example. At this time, we often judge ourselves by the opinion of our peers. That is part of the growing up process and it is fine, as long as we grow out of the habit. Sooner or later, we need to make the life decision to have our opinion about ourselves be the most important to us. After all in all of our lives, we will always be here longer than anyone else!

What is your frame of reference?
The second idea is choosing your 'frame of reference'. A frame of reference is the criteria by which we judge something or decide its validity. There are two options, an internal frame of reference or external frame of reference.

Let me ask you this: how do you know you have done a good days work? Does someone tell you, 'Great job, Joe' or do you just know? The first is external i.e. someone tells you, and the second internal, as you 'just know', which is an internal response. Neither are good nor bad as both have their place.
For example, when learning something new it is useful to have an external frame of reference otherwise it is very difficult to learn anything new, as you could think you know it all already. There is no room for more information. So when learning, go external first until you have enough criteria and information to start to decide for your self (internal) what is valid and what is not.

An internal frame of reference means you decide what is valid, good, bad or otherwise. If when asked the above question about how you know you have done a good days work, you have an internal response (a feeling), that indicates you are operating from an internal frame of reference. If you know your job well then that would be appropriate. But if you were new, perhaps you may still need external validation until you can make good distinctions about what works well and what does not.

When you are thinking about your self and how you are regarded, it is healthy to create solid, positive internal frames of reference. People with healthy self-esteems (how they view themselves) operate from a positive internal frame of reference in regard to their human worth. People with low self-esteem operate from a poor external frame of reference in regard to their own worth. In simple terms, they allow others to decide their worth. Not a useful place to operate from!

Making the change
So how do you change this? While this has been the subject of thousands of books, articles and conversations, let me add a few simple ideas.

1. Listen to and edit your own conversations about yourself. Do not allow negative self talk into your own thinking
2. Start to notice things you appreciate about yourself
3. Make a gratitude list of your life and what you have learned along the way.
4. Understand this is a process, a transition into a new way of thinking. Give your self time and be patient
5. Practice forgiveness.Email me for a worksheet. Read books on the topic
6. Read quality self help books
7. Attend seminars on self esteem
8. Seek professional assistance from a coach or therapist

The sooner you deal with this issue the better off you will be. Your real life may be waiting for you around the corner.
About the Author
Bill Lee-Emery is a Work Life Balance Coach who works specifically with Entrepreneurs, Executives and Senior Managers. You can access more free tips here or join one of his coaching programs
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