Often, a simple discussion turns aggressive and unproductive when one person fails to point out mistakes gently and/or the other person fails to accept constructive criticism. To avoid such situations, we must bear some points in mind whilst pointing out mistakes as well as accepting criticism appreciatively.
Dishing Out ‘Constructive’ Criticism
Intention: If combined with the correct intentions, criticism can actually benefit others – something which we should be striving for. If you do not intend to bring out a positive change in the person you are planning to criticize, then it is better to avoid criticizing and wasting time. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The people whom I hate the most and who are the farthest from me on the Day of Judgment are those who talk uselessly, and those who put down others, andthose who show-off when they talk.” [Narrated by At-Tirmidhi].
Be gentle: Do not insult the person you are aiming to give feedback to and in being gentle you can avoid straining a relationship. As advised by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or else keep silent.” [Narrated by Al-Bukhaari (6018) and Muslim (47)]. Avoid making unnecessary personal remarks. Instead, use kind and gentle words to communicate with the other person. Allah says in the Noble Qur’an: “And speak to people good [words].” [Qur’an 2:83].
Do not boast: While pointing out mistakes of others people can fall into the trap of boasting about themselves, refrain from talking about your own accomplishments or superiority as it only puts the other person down further. A session of constructive criticism is not about feeding your ego, but about helping the other person to improve. Allah says in the Noble Qur’an: “And do not turn your cheek [in contempt] toward people and do not walk through the earth exultantly. Indeed, Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful.” [Qur’an 31:18].
Be precise and concise: As a rule of thumb, point out the mistakes specifically and be concise as the person receiving it would respond more positively than to a vague criticism. If you really want the other person to learn, then kindly show him/her exactly where they made the mistakes and how to improve.
Provide solutions: Often we suffer from a backfire when critical feedback isn’t constructive. It is not sufficient to point out mistakes only, instead it is more productive to provide solutions which the other person can implement to correct his/her mistakes and it can even be considered advice gratefully accepted.
Advise privately: Point out mistakes in private and in discretion so as not to humiliate anyone by discussing their faults out in public. This method puts the other person into ease and helps him/her to receive your criticism positively. If you cannot get hold of that person in private, then try other methods such as sending him/her a private message or giving him/her a call to arrange to meet them.
Accepting Criticism with a Smile
Du’aa: Ask Allah to help you to avoid getting angry, sad, suspicious and/or arrogant. Allah says in the Noble Qur’an: “And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous, who spend during ease and hardship and _who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good.”_ [Qur’an 3:134]. Furthermore, He says: “O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption.” [Qur’an 49:12]. To avoid these emotions entering your heart you should seek His Help. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “No one who has an atom’s-weight of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” [Narrated by Muslim (91)].
Hold good opinion of others: At times we may ask: why should one spend their precious time and effort into pointing out your mistakes? Perhaps they want the best for you! That is how we should think of people who point our mistakes.
Room for improvement: Rejoice when someone points out your mistake for it only means that there is further room for improvement. Utilize criticism to improve yourself and see it as a gift that you can use. Criticism is an opportunity for you to examine your flaws and learn something in the process.
Ask for further input: If you are unable to understand the criticism or find any faults in yourself, then ask the other person (who has criticized you) to elaborate, so that you are able to learn something genuinely.
Self-confidence: If you think the criticism is unjustified and not constructive, then leave it aside. There is no need to react negatively if you are confident that you are not at fault. However, if you have even a minimal amount of doubt, then it is better to discuss your views with the person who has pointed out your mistakes.
I hope the above tips help all the Productive Muslims out there to turn criticism into something productive! Share ways you accept criticism below.