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I’m just being honest’

Criticism can be excruciating to receive, and tricky to give well but, without it, we will never grow professionally. Suzy Bashford offers a no-nonsense user’s guide to the dreaded ‘feedback’

A colleague once called me judgemental. It was only a throwaway comment, but it stung. I winced, lost my concentration, and was unable to focus on anything other than that word for the rest of the conversation.

As soon as I could, I fled to the toilets and cried. I had always prided myself on being liberal and open-minded, so the criticism really threw me off balance. Once I had composed myself – and reapplied my make-up – I felt anger welling up inside me: towards my colleague, yes, but I was also cross with myself for reacting so emotionally and unprofessionally to that remark.

My reaction to challenging criticism was typical, says psychologist, Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance (Ebury, £14.99). I was displaying the classic primal response to stress: first I froze, then I took flight, then I wanted to fight. It’s also instinctive, when we feel judged or threatened, to cope with it by turning the critic into an ‘unreal other’ from whom we disconnect. ‘You lose all sense of that person being like you – human, with insecurities, and a heart that wants to love,’ says Brach. ‘You get cut off from all that while feeling stressed and judged by them.’

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Psychologies April 2017 - Harness Your Power