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How affected are you by the opinion of others?

“We are as exposed to criticism as we are to the flu”

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

We are all under the magnifying glass. People constantly judge our actions, thoughts and feelings, and we evaluate theirs. Sooner or later we all face criticism: your boss gives you feedback on your performance, your teacher underlines your mistakes in the paper you delivered,  your girlfriend makes you see how impolite you were at dinner with her family. So, you have no control over the appreciation people have of you. But you do have control on your response to their appraisal.

Some persons have learned how to deal with criticism and others are more sensitive. Highly sensitive people over react, shout, cry or get defensive. Why? They over-react because disapproval generates core insecurities and painful memories of stressful experiences, such as regrets and severe punishments from their childhood. They cry because they do not know how to deal with the unexpected. They get defensive because their hurt ego responds with outrage: “How can you say I am explosive, when I am calm at all times?”.

At some degree we are all sensitive to what others think of us. And there is no reason to feel ashamed. However, if you wish to, you can develop the ability to make the most out the judgments you are subject to. Below you will find some ideas on how to overcome  being susceptible to other peoples judgments.

All opinions are valid. It is normal for others to form an opinion about you, your work and how you think and act. Some may like your style and others may not, some like you and other consider you unfriendly. It’s impossible to please everyone. And you know this very well.

“The positive reviews are the worst. They are misleading because all they do is boost your ego. Then, all you want is more”

Chazz Palminteri

It’s easier to accept positive opinions, when someone says you are good looking, generous or that they consider you a good partner or an exceptional employee. You generally listen and accept these ideas gladly, because they usually match your own appreciation.

But, why don’t we welcome those opinions that differ from our own? The problem is that we assess opinions as good or bad. We easily accept positive ones and are reluctant to accept the negative ones,  so we miss out a great deal of the feedback we are given. The key is to remove both good and bad labels, listen in a neutral manner, assimilate the information and see what we can learn from them. The following is a Chinese story that, precisely, refers to our trend to constantly evaluate our experiences.

A farmers happiness depended basically on two things: what happened to his horse and to his son. One day, when he woke up, he discovered his horse had ru0n away. “This is bad”, he said and became depressed. However, when he woke up on the following day, the horse was back, so the farmer said, “good”, and was very happy. A day later, whilst riding his horse, his son fell off and broke his leg. Once again, the farmer said, “This is bad” and sank in his sorrow. But the next day, the army marched into the village and enlisted all  healthy young men to fight in the war. And, of course, the farmers son was let off due to his broken leg. Then, the farmer said, “good”, and was filled with joy.

Sometimes, what at first sight appears as a setback is a blessing in disguise. And what seems good at first glance is actually harmful. The farmer was on an emotional roller coaster based on the good and bad labels he attributed to each event.

“To show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it”

Tacitus

If you find it difficult to accept comments from others, or your emotional reaction is out of proportion, perhaps there is some truth in what you hear.  Give critiques the benefit of doubt: perhaps  you do act recklessly  when drinking alcohol; maybe  you do behave a little obsessive regarding house order;  you possibly are arriving a little late to work meetings. Admitting that there is some truth in what you are told can be  painful, but it is also a good opportunity to make changes on a personal level.

But, in many occasions, what makes it painful is not what they say but how they say it. If this is the case,  it would be appropriate to admit the opinion was spot on and request they say it in a more polite manner. Generally, It’s possible to do so at work, at school, with friend or with our partner.

These are ways in which criticism can be used in your favor. The less sensitive you are to others judgments, the stronger you will be to cope with difficult situations.

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