Even well intended advice is not easy to hear when we haven’t asked for it. All we hear is the implied criticism.

It might be a colleague at work giving us some friendly advice on how to do a task better next time. Or a friend who wants to tell us something that will be helpful to us although it is painful to hear. Perhaps it is a family member trying to work through a disagreement with us.

We might like to think we can take criticism. But actually most of us are not that good at it.

Often when we hear what sounds like criticism our defences immediately go up. We take aim and bat the criticism away to the boundary. We wheel out our defence mechanisms of blaming other people, making jokes, getting angry, becoming indignant, and all the other myriad ways we avoid hearing what’s been said.

The point of defence mechanisms like these is of course that we don’t know that’s what we are doing. We are literally defending ourselves from the truth about ourselves.

It may be easier to see this happening in other people than ourselves. There are people who are prickly and hard to get near. Some who quickly become distraught at the hint of challenge. Others who are so slippy that talking to them is like chasing a bar of soap around the bathtub.

You might even recognise something of yourself in those descriptions. Sometimes defences are useful. There are times and places when we might want to avoid a challenge. The trouble comes when we don’t know that we are using defensive strategies.  We are the person who can't take the truth.

When confronted by challenging new information it’s always worth listening and trying to hear if there is any truth behind it. The fact is we probably don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. Next time, rather than immediately batting criticism away ask yourself, is there anything in this that might be useful to me?

If we can do this we are always open to change. And when we are open to change we constantly grow as people, becoming wiser and more able to navigate the world and our relationships.

The first step is to stop the next time you find yourself reaching for your bat, put it down and ask yourself is there any truth to this, even just a tiny bit. Learn to listen, sort the useful information from the rest and let the useful information in.  As painful as the truth might be in the short term, the benefits of knowing yourself better will follow.

To find out more about my work:  http://www.profstephenjoseph.com

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