Accepting Criticism Responsibly

My ‘smart mouth’ always got me into trouble as a kid. I didn’t necessarily talk a lot, but I always had to explain myself. ‘Talking back’ my mom called it. But I didn’t see it that way. I was merely expressing my point of view during confrontations she initiated to inform me I was in trouble. Whether it was trouble for not washing dishes, not cleaning the bathroom, or forgetting to take the chicken out (true story), I had an explanation. Okay, an excuse. It drove my mother mad, and I never really understood why until recently. There were several flaws wrapped up in my need to explain things that wouldn’t have real world ramifications until 20 years later. Flaws that are hard to hear when gums are flapping in full backtalk mode include defensiveness, not taking responsibility, and enabling one’s own behavior.

It’s defensive
This was one lesson I learned over time. Constantly having an excuse or an explanation for my behavior is interpreted as being defensive, and it’s not an attractive quality in a friend, significant other, coworker, or employer. No one likes to express themselves and be met with defensiveness. Imagine having a bone to pick with someone, and the person is closed off from the moment you talk to them as if they have a bone to pick with you. Isn’t that confusing? It would leave me feeling unheard and frustrated with the person I’m trying to communicate with. That’s how others feel when talking to someone defensive. It’s offputting and unproductive. If the person feels rebuffed enough times, they may stop trying to communicate all together.

It’s a form of not taking responsibility
Responsibility takes many forms from chores, to emotional responsibility, to deadlines at work. Regardless of the ways in which responsibility presents itself, the expectation is typically along the lines of do the thing. And if you don’t do it, own that you didn’t. Don’t spend time making excuses. From experience, it frustrates both parties. They’re upset that you’re making excuses for not doing the thing, and then you may get upset because your explanation may be valid. But the key here is perspective. Our explanations are valid, to us. The other party, depending on relation to you, may genuinely not care about our perspective because they’re dealing with their own perspective and the fact that they’ve been let down. Once both parties are upset, it becomes hard to bring the conversation back into focus. To avoid becoming upset, accept responsibility from the start, and apologize if appropriate. Apologies are free! (So are hellos!) Also something that took me a long time to learn.

It enables a person’s own behavior
It’s surprising how many behaviors are subconscious. For years, I excused my own behavior unaware of how it affected other people. But it does. We don’t all exist in a vacuum unfortunately. We’re dynamic creatures of free will! Which also means we step on each other’s toes without even realizing from time to time. To time to time. The tricky part is noticing early. Often times we write our own behavior off as a fluke, even as we’re presented with it over and over again. Analyzing one’s own behavior and taking ownership of responsibility helps dismantle those thought patterns and behavior patterns.

Learning that it’s okay to shut up sometimes and let people express themselves doesn’t mean you’re a bad person who should stop talking forever. It does mean that silence may be the best course of action when confronted with something that makes you uncomfortable, frustrated, or defensive. It’s okay to feel those things! But it’s important to keep it in perspective and ask yourself how the other person must be feeling, and would it be helpful to chime in with, “Yeah, but…”? If that but won’t save the conversation, swallow it, and swallow the criticism. It hurts, but leveraging the relationship to feel right and valid may not be the best course of action.

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