When you’re on the receiving end of criticism, it’s easy to slip into reactive mode. Often, the words which hurt most have deep roots. Perhaps when you were growing up being “selfish” was the worst possible insult in your family. Or a teacher describing your work as “sloppy” has left you with a tendency to bristle at anyone who questions your attention to detail. But when you know how to turn criticism into confidence, they don’t just lose their power – they can become tools to help you empower other women too.
Today’s article is inspired by a recent conversation in our coaches forum. One of our Certified Coaches shared a recent experience she’d had of being described as a “strong character” by an acquaintance, and feeling hurt by what felt like an implied criticism.
It got her reflecting on the way this often showed up in her work with clients – and how navigating the tension between being perceived as “strong” with all its positive connotations, and “domineering” with perhaps some negative ones, was something many women face.
It prompted me to think about the process our coaches have for responding to criticism, and how you could use it too.
There are 3 distinct steps we can see happening here.
And I’d invite you to reflect on them next time you receive some criticism that really lands. It might just transform the way you feel about a wounding comment – and turn it into an unexpected source of confidence, and even inspiration, to support others in turn.
How to turn criticism into confidence
Step #1 Observe your reaction
As our coach demonstrated so beautifully in this example, the first step in transforming criticism is to start to become conscious of your emotional responses.
Simply labelling how you’re feeling is a great place to begin. Perhaps you find yourself bubbling up with anger or frustration, or feeling the urge to cry or walk away from a conversation.
Those emotions don’t come out of nowhere. And they often follow distinct patterns. At One of many we refer to the 3 “disempowering archetypes” which often form the basis of our response to triggers.
Bitch, victim or martyr – which do you tend to slip into?
Or is your reaction something else entirely? Make a note of it next time you’re riled by a piece of criticism.
Step #2 Identify the trigger
Once you’ve started to become conscious of your emotional responses, you can dig a little deeper.
What’s the “trigger” for that reaction? Was it a particular word – in this case, “strong” – or was it more about how it was delivered?
Did you feel scolded, undermined, belittled or abandoned?
You might find, with some journaling perhaps, that the underlying emotion is one you recognise. If you can recall the first time you felt this way, you might be able to draw a connection between that early experience and the emotions that arise for you now.
How can you release those feelings and break that cycle?
Our coaches use the “PowerType Release” process which you might have encountered if you’ve ever been to a One Woman Conference. But journalling, sharing with a trusted partner or consciously telling yourself “it’s safe for me to let this go” can also be effective ways to move on.
Step #3 See the wider pattern
When we’ve noticed the root of the criticism in our own lives, we can start to see a wider pattern at work. Often, we begin to notice this theme in the experiences of people around us.
If you’ve ever confessed a vulnerability to a girlfriend and had her respond “Oh my god! That’s exactly how I feel!” you’ll know what I mean.
When you listen carefully to the conversations you hear around you, or to the challenges other women in your life face, you might start to see the criticism that felt so personal to you occurring in its wider context.
And that can be a powerful clue for a way to shift those patterns to ones that are healthier and more supportive.
Let’s look at an example of this in action
Perhaps you notice yourself slipping into “bitch” mode when someone implies you’re behaving selfishly for leaving work early on a day when there’s lots going on.
“Sod you!” your inner voice sulks, “at least I’m organised enough not to be doing all my tasks at the very last minute, unlike you”.
Wow. Where did that come from? Your colleague didn’t deserve that scorn.
So you dig in. Your reaction was definitely triggered by the implication that you were putting yourself before others. Maybe that feeling that you should always be giving, not taking, is a pattern you inherited as a child, when your mum was vocally critical of the “selfish” choices of a family member she disapproved of.
But rationally, you know there was nothing wrong with your decision. And when you take a step back, you start to notice how many women struggle with putting themselves first.
Is taking time to look after your own needs something that you see your peers and colleagues struggle with? How can you begin to discuss that more openly, and help each other model a different way of being?
When you’re able to consider why criticism stings, and find ways to release what’s at the bottom of it, you begin to tap into an extraordinary confidence. You start to become curious about your responses, rather than squashing them down or ignoring them.
And when you know how to transform criticism into confidence, it can be a vital clue to the impact that’s uniquely yours to have on the women around you.
Want to help create more confident women?
Our coaching methodology at One of many contains a wealth of tools to help you, and the women you work with, identify challenges and move past them – from learning how to listen effectively, to identifying your biggest personal and professional challenges, and releasing emotions with ease.
If you’re curious about how they work in practice, and would like the chance to experience them for yourself so that you can apply them in your own world, join us for Essential Skills for Coaching Women.
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