Practically anyone who has ever done anything has faced criticism, and if you’re doing anything even remotely challenging or innovative, you’re bound to get it in droves. And being that we’re emotional creatures who are always going to care about what others think of us, criticism can hurt.
Given these facts, learning how to take criticism well and using it for good is a valuable skill. In this article you’ll find several comments and stories intended to help you do just that.
Here’s the simple question I posed:
Many of us struggle to take legitimate criticism. For those who have learned to take criticism well, what primary piece of advice can you share for others?
The responses below are, in my opinion, the best ones that came back. I’ve included not just overall advice on taking criticism, but several stories people submitted as well. The main points that people brought up are as follows:
- Look at criticism objectively, piece by piece, and dissect it (link)
- Take a minute before reacting (link) and hold back your first reaction (link)
- Don’t take criticism as a personal attack — it refers to things you can do better, not who you are (link)
- View the situation as a learning curve (link) and a tool for growth (link)
- Consider the source and context of the criticism, and if it’s from someone you respect, be grateful for the opportunity to learn and improve (link)
- Learn to distinguish criticism: careless criticism, careful criticism or hurtful criticism (link)
- Learn to listen (link)
- Don’t be afraid to seek criticism (link)
If you have anything further to add to the topic of how to handle criticism better, you’re also welcome to make a contribution here.
Remember occasions when you've given criticism or feedback to others - you weren't saying it from an angry or disappointed point of view, were you? You were saying it to help the other person learn and grow. Any time you get feedback or criticism from someone else, remember why they're sharing their thoughts with you - because they want you to learn. Once you remember that, you'll take criticism far better because you'll see it from the other point of view. You can't control how they give their criticism and sometimes it may come across as angry or annoyed, but you can control how you think about it.
--Rhiannon Moore, Evopure
My business started out with a pool skimmer and dreams of buying my first car. As business started picking up, I received lots of different advice from my parents and friends. Everyone wanted to tell me what to do, but nobody wanted to put the work in. Later when I hired my first employees and built up the business I had to deal with a lot of customers. It was all a learning experience, but I’ve grown by dealing with all the criticism through the years.
The best way to deal with it is to become dead inside. Just kidding, sort of. You need to look at criticism from a completely objective point of view as if you’re a scientist dissecting an alien. Take the criticism, and look at it piece by piece. Is it objective? Is it meant to help you improve? Is it constructive?
Take it piece by piece and dissect it. You don’t need to respond right away, and probably shouldn’t. After you’ve taken it apart then you can decide on your next course of action.
--Rick Patterson, Poolonomics
Here's a true incident from my teenage college years. I made a mild request to a group of people and one of my dorm-mates lit into me about how I was always so selfish and didn't care about other people. It hurt like hell to hear this--but I reflected on it and decided that he had a point. So I changed my behavior. Decades later, I saw him at a reunion and thanked him. He had no memory of the incident, but to me it was a key turning point.
Criticism usually has a grain of truth (or sometimes a bushel)--so start by expressing thanks, even if it's delivered nastily. Especially, then, because listening and appreciating is the only way you're going to get into a positive outcome with someone who's hostile. Listen, let them get their feelings out, acknowledge their feelings, meaningfully apologize for your action if that's appropriate--even if it's not, apologize for upsetting them or making them feel unvalued. Don't try to explain or justify your action yet. Just listen.And whatever you do, don't say, I'm sorry, but...--that's not an apology. Keep an ear out for the opportunity to take a specific step that will help, and offer, out loud, to take that step. That might just be informing them ahead the next time, or it might be completely undoing an action. You have to decide how much of the criticism is justified and figure out what the real issue is (which may not be the expressed issue).
Once the other person is done venting and you've apologized or de-escalated, you might (but might not) want to ask, would you like to know why I did it that way? Maybe we could think together about how I could do it differently next time so both of our needs get met. With this, you make them a partner in your growth, and you increase the likelihood of finding a viable solution for both of you, building a relationship of cooperation, not hostility.
--Shel Horowitz, Going Beyond Sustainability
I have received a lot of criticism in my time, both professional and otherwise, and over time, I have become better at taking it, and turning it into ammo to do better. To take criticism better, take a minute or more before reacting to the criticism. Giving yourself a chance to think over it, rather than reacting impulsively, allows you space to calmly analyze the criticism, and what to take away from it. In many instances you will find that the criticism is indeed warranted.
Bottom Line: Taking time to absorb the criticism before reacting to it is my top tip for handling criticism better.
--William Taylor, VelvetJobs
I think there are a couple of things people can do to take criticism well.
First thing it’s about knowing that there is a difference between you as a person and what you are criticized for: your behavior, your actions, the way you do things. Many people struggle with criticism because they take it as an attack. Many times, even if the criticism is harsh, it refers to the things you can do better, and it is not about who you are. And you can always learn to do things better if you are willing to learn. There is nothing wrong in wanting to learn and grow your skills. This doesn't say anything bad about you.
Second, ask questions. Sometimes you will not hear constructive criticism, but just mean things. Ask why he/she says that, what - in his/her vision - could be done better? This way you also protect yourself from taking in toxic remarks.
Third, be open to hear the opinion of the other person. Even if you feel he/she is not right, could there be something in what they say, that you can learn or use for your own growth? If so, this could be a big win for you. Take the opinion of the other person just as that, the way they see things, and not as the truth, especially if they try to label you negatively.
--Valentina Dragomir, PsihoSensus
Criticism is an awareness game. In a ninja-level awareness practice, criticism is a way to hone your skills and turn what most people feel is a setback into a huge gift or opportunity. We humans are usually triggered by criticism due to early conditioning; ways we were taught to think when we’ve done something someone else thinks is wrong. If we’re in that triggered state, all we can do is react, usually with a bit of a freakout moment. The ninja awareness move is teaching ourselves to observe the moment first, taking a step back from the not-good-enough feeling inside, and then responding in a more helpful and healthy way. If someone is flinging criticism at you you also have to understand that those opinions come from a fellow human; someone who is responding to what is happening through their own unique set of conditioning. It’s your job to discern whether or not the person, and their advice, matter to you, and whether or not you’re better off taking a deep breath and letting it slide. That discernment is part of the mindset and practice of that next-level we are all striving for. And when you have it, criticism becomes a gift; a way to practice your skills.
--Laura Di Franco, Brave Healer Productions
I have handled a lot of criticism throughout my life and career, and here is what I learned:
When someone offers you harsh feedback if your actions are not received with the enthusiasm you expected, take this opportunity to view the situation as a learning curve. Even if you don't agree with it or didn't invite it, constructive feedback fosters growth and breakthroughs. Diamonds are formed under pressure. So be grateful for this opportunity.
Never take criticism personally. It is not about you. It is about your actions or behavior. So when receiving feedback, pause, slowly count to 30, and ask yourself, What am I meant to learn from this?. Sometimes during a tough meeting, I take my time to process criticism by saying: Thank you for voicing out your thoughts. I would appreciate it if you could allow me to take a few minutes to collect my thoughts so that I can respond. Use this pause to walk outside and calm your mind.
--Dan Kelly, The Negotiator Guru
Although many people think I am a bit insane, as a small business owner and entrepreneur, I make it a point to seek out legitimate criticism. Before I go into why, let me tell you a short story.
One Thursday afternoon, before seeing patients, my staff asked if they could speak to me. I said absolutely, and actually brought a notebook to the meeting to ensure I was going to absorb everything they needed to tell me and to also ensure they knew they were being heard and taken very seriously.
To say that I wasn't prepared for the meeting was an enormous understatement. This wasn't a meeting around systems, efficiency, patient care, etc. This was a meeting to tell me that I was being a stand-offish micromanager with poor communication skills.
Hear me. I took down EVERYTHING they said. I felt very hurt and overwhelmed with emotion. I wasn't even able to respond right away and expressed that I needed time to absorb everything that they had told me so that I could respond appropriately. I proceeded to then go into my office and have what I refer to as a big girl cry, followed by the pulling up of my big girl pants so that I could get to work.
The long way around, but here are my two primary, yes two, pieces of advice on the topic of taking criticism.
First - consider the source and context. WHO is giving you the criticism? Are they in a position to do so? Do you respect, or should you respect, what that person has to say? Are they being reasonable? Be honest with yourself.
Second - if the first point is solid, you should immediately learn to enable yourself to be overcome with gratitude. You were just given insight from someone important to you, and given an OPPORTUNITY to learn and improve. You were given an opportunity to show someone that you respect them enough to HEAR THEM and you CARE ENOUGH to make changes to better work together or communicate more efficiently. What an amazing, sometimes painful, but valuable GIFT.
When you shift your perspective, seeking out constructive and legitimate feedback from people you respect just makes sense if you want to improve and grow.
--Dr. Jenifer Epstein, Hershey Family Chiropractic
Be a little more self-centered when it comes to taking criticism. Instead of evaluating and analyzing what's being said, think in terms of:
- How can I MAKE this particular feedback/criticism benefit me, or
- How can I leverage this criticism
Instead of getting angry or upset because of the criticism, you will find that you are proactively thinking of a solution to improve yourself.
About 7 years ago I had a manager who was an excellent feedback giver. He always used to end our conversation by explaining HOW whatever negative he is has said is going to help me. Over time, I got trained thinking in terms of how I can MAKE any negative thing that anyone is saying benefit me. If you can figure out the benefits, you'll proactively work on that criticism.
--Vineet Jain, Divinio Limited
There's no way to reach people with your creative work unless you can take criticism. The truth is, though, that you have to ask for it. Most responses to your work will be indifference, and that's worse.
When you do get criticism, it's important to understand what kind of criticism it is: careless criticism, careful criticism or hurtful criticism.. Careless criticism is that off-the-cuff remark someone makes about your work, for instance: I didn't like your book because I don't like romance novels. While your first response might be, What are you talking about? It's NOT a romance novel! you would be missing the point of the criticism, which is that someone perceived your work in a way that you were not intending, making careless criticism extremely powerful and valuable when it's decoded.
Careful criticism is usually offered by someone with qualifications, such as an editor, an agent or a teacher. If you've requested this criticism by submitting your work or attending a class, it's best to listen to all of it. Just as with careless criticism, there may be things you think are ridiculous in it, even flat-out wrong, and it's important to acknowledge that you're getting the impression of someone outside your head who is coming to your work from another place, and is seeing something you couldn't see from inside it.
Some careful criticism is actually hurtful criticism, and by this, I mean criticism that is designed not to help you, but to hurt you. If you get feedback that seems completely off-base, or is a criticism of you personally, rather than your work, keep in mind that the critic may have toxic reasons for saying these things: perhaps they don't like competition; perhaps this is the easiest way to get rid of too many requests for help; perhaps they are damaged people, and have the mistaken notion that damaging someone else is a form of love or support. If you think you've received criticism that's meant to be hurtful, the best thing is to seek out other opinions to find out if other people agree, and if they don't, you can safely disregard it.
Criticism is essential and is best taken in as part of the picture, along with your own visions and impressions, and a grain of salt.
--Adam Cole, Adam Cole Works
I work as a graphic designer and my field is inherently riddled with criticism. I learned that the best way to take criticism is to sit, listen, thank them for their input, and then walk away. Once you digest the critique and really think about what was said, you can (most of the time) start to view your work from their perspective. As long as the criticism is meant to be constructive and is offered in a productive way, it can open your eyes to something you may have missed. More often than not, it leads to a better outcome and you can use that experience to help guide you in future assignments, projects, or work situations.
While I was in college, they prepped us for these situations by having group critiques on projects. We displayed piece of work from the class and said everything that was great or terrible about it. Being only students at the time, there were more bad designs than good ones and it led to some brutal critiques. But everyone created better designs as the class went on, and that wouldn't have happened without hearing the hard truth.
Everyone thinks they are a designer and, while it's true that everyone has their own tastes and views, they don't necessarily know how to express what they want in a competent manner.
Sometimes the critic comes across as brash, rude, or says contradictory things. While designing a logo that was subjected to design by committee, one woman in the group flat out told me it my design was stupid. As you can imagine, I was shocked by this blunt comment made in front of a large group. Instead of confronting her in front of everyone, I waited until the end of our meeting. When we were away from the group, I asked her what about my designs made her say it was stupid. She said she didn't know; she just thought the whole idea of the project was stupid so she didn't like any of it.
In an instance like this, it was plain that she would never have anything good to say about any design related to the project. So, while she had many more criticisms throughout that particular project, I had decided after our conversation that none of her criticism were aimed directly at me. And that's the way I feel most times about an unhappy client. They are focused on something outside of the issue but projecting their thoughts onto the current situation.
--Jeanette Johnson, Jeanette Johnson Art & Design
I believe I have some unique insights to give on how to take criticism considering I'm a blogger in the parenting niche and I’m a productivity coach professionally. The latter means I help companies and individuals become more productive, increase their happiness.
Actually, we all need criticism. I love getting it. But I’m in love only with the constructive version. Constructive ones can even uplift you as they have a positive vibe to it, many times with endings, such as “next time let’s do it differently”. With such criticism or simply positive feedback, I know where to improve.
However, to this day, it’s not easy to take negative criticism. Such negative feedback makes you feel weak and miserable. How can you still make the most of such situations? I have a few tips that should immediately make you feel better in such moments. First, become aware that the only control you have is over yourself. Therefore you need to remain calm or get back your calmness by changing your physiology and focus. Breath in and out slightly longer than usual. Change also your focus by asking some questions: can it be that the person criticizing simply had a bad day? If criticism comes from the same person regularly, you may want to focus on something bizarre, e.g. the nose or the collar of the person in front of you. No matter what you do, the point is you should remain calm because that allows you to come up with a creative, constructive solution on your part.
A few years ago I had an unpleasant boss and I had to use such strategies almost on a daily basis. By learning about how to calm down myself and defuse the situation, I could keep my sanity at work. One book I found extremely helpful is “Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny” by Tony Robbins. I keep rereading his book each year to deepen my understanding of how to take control of myself when receiving negative criticism.
--Balint Horvath, Projectfather
Taking criticism is one of those things you need to learn to live with, especially if you are in a managerial position. The best way you can get better at taking criticism is by learning to listen, which is a crucial skill in its own right. Oftentimes our minds are programmed to negatively take criticism, thus leading to us looking at it from a twisted perspective.
So if you take a step back and really listen to the criticism, it might actually be positive and make you a better person or more effective at your job, for example. Active listening allows you to hear all the details of the criticism that can be helpful, instead of dismissing them instantly. When you listen, it's also more likely that the person criticizing you will take their time to thoroughly explain their rationale in a friendly and understandable way.
--Edward Solicito, tothetop
My primary piece of advice is to look at legitimate criticism as a gift, an opportunity to grow. Humans have an innate desire to learn, improve, and progress. But naturally, we also want to be accepted and respected. It's understandable how these conflicting needs can cause internal discord when receiving criticism. Recognize that it was likely difficult for the person delivering the message; work with them to find potential solutions and discuss actionable advice. Look at the feedback as the first step in a new growth opportunity. Put your plan into action and check-in with the person who gave the critique. Acknowledge and review your improvement, struggles, and success. Know that this experience will help you in the future. If you're receiving criticism, you'll be encouraged by your past strength and reliance. If you're giving constructive criticism, you're sure to be more empathetic and supportive.
--Marlene Quade, Prime Mutual
My recommendation is to understand that legitimate criticism that comes from someone who's well-versed in the subject matter is worth its weight in gold, even if it's sometimes painful. After all, it'll give your valuable insights into your potential pain points, areas of improvement, and generally fast-track your learning so that you can do better next time.That's why it's good practice to see criticism as a means to improve professionally, not an attack on your self-worth at work.
--Max Woolf, ResumeLab
The key to taking criticism well is to understand two things:
1. Why criticism is so objectionable
2. What’s at stake if we can’t take criticism
The reason criticism is so objectionable boils down to one word: shame. Shame’s an internal, emotional driver whose function it is to prevent us from feeling exposed – especially in our failures. When we are criticized, shame is alerting us to the fact that our failure is about to be exposed and insists we begin evasive maneuvers. Those evasive maneuvers come in two forms, fight or flight, and neither one is helpful to us long term.
There is a way through this so we can learn from our failures and prepare to succeed. As the criticism begins and you feel the voice of shame insisting you fight or flee, remind yourself you don’t need to fear exposure. Tell that inner voice that, while you appreciate the fact that it’s trying to protect you, that, as an adult, you can withstand this exposure.
Then repeat these two words: Failure is my friend.
We all know this statement to be true in our head. From quotes by Thomas Edison to Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky we know in our head that failure is the only path to success. The trick will be to teach this to our heart – which is where shame and our fear of failure reside.
To do this, it’s important to start by consciously seeking criticism. From your boss, your spouse, or, God forbid, your kids. It’s much easier to do this than to get surprised by criticism and have to do it on the fly. If, every day (or once a week if we’re just starting out), we can seek out some trusted person to expose our failure so that we can learn from it, we will become practiced in the art of failing for success. That way, when criticism does sneak up on us, we’ll be naturally more prepared and we won’t have to shell up or lash out like shame is asking us to do!
--Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson, rickpattersonconnects.com
Criticism and praise are two sides of the same coin. Praise is acknowledged, but criticism, not so much. Here are a few tips that might help you handle criticism:
1) Don't take it on your ego: This is what most of us never do. We take it on our ego. I understand that it can be quite intimidating to be wrong sometimes but it's okay. We're all humans, after all! So, next time you're criticized, look at it as a dissatisfied feedback from a customer and try to work on it rather than being tormented by it.
2) Be thankful: You are bound to be criticized at some point in your life. And when you do, be thankful to the other person instead of putting up a fight, no matter how hard it is to hear that. See how you can grow professionally and personally and set an example of professionalism by handling criticism with a gracious attitude!
--Amy Olson, The Absolute Dater
Criticism is a tool for growth.
Next time you are the recipient of the critiques and criticism of others, separate from any initial emotional response, and really listen in. While the judgement of others can have little or nothing to do with reality, often there are nuggets of new ideas and the chance for unsolicited but nonetheless expanded perspective. Resist the need to defend yourself or react, and instead absorb what is being said. Then pause and reflect. Is there any truth in what was expressed? Are there any red flags for change? Is there something that you want to do differently or not? While criticism seems negative on the surface, it can be a strong barometer for positive personal and professional growth, and it may offer you a great way to improve upon how you are currently doing something. When you graciously listen to the criticism of others, you stay in control of the situation and you give yourself the time and space to take the best from that encounter. Reserve your right to process what you are hearing and leave any major and meaningful responses for a later date so that you can fully evaluate the situation and diffuse reactions. Staying calm and listening to what is being said, will allow you to be conversational rather than confrontational and to take a moment to evaluate what you can learn, or what you can toss from the situation.
--Randi Levin, Randi Levin Coaching
Taking in criticism is not always an easy idea and it is alright to feel sad as that’s the heat of the moment. Understanding it later and pondering over it at the end of the day is what is of utmost importance. Learn not to react at that very moment and just take it in, it may be hard but you’ll realize the importance later. At the end of the day, sit at a calm place, light your favorite scented candle & sip your preferred flavor of the coffee. Think of what happened and why it happened. Self-correction is never bad but to not realize it, is what’s wrong. Take the criticism constructively and try to think of ways how this particular change can make you a better person. If it still doesn't make sense, let it be and flush out the thought by enjoying your favorite music. At the end of the day, it was just one moment!
--Dr. Andrea Paul, Health Media Experts
The best and most important tip to take criticism is to be patient, be thoughtful, and not be defensive impulsively. When someone criticizes you, it is a widespread reaction to hurl back without considering why the other person criticized immediately.
It is up to you how you take criticism, whether you take it as an insult or something demoralizing or as something positive and constructive, which you can learn from. To take criticism as something positive, you need to realize that as a human, you have all the chances in the world to be wrong about something; you cannot always be perfect. Every mistake you make allows you to learn, so maybe someone criticizing you is for your benefit, and it can help you do your wrongs, right.
So, to take criticism positively, always hold back your first thought or first reaction. Give it some time, and think about what the other person said, think rationally. If you realize you were wrong, then admit it. There's no shame in doing that. Accept the criticizer's words and grow from them; learn from them.
--Alessandra Kessler, Healthy Body Healthy Mind
As a former tennis player, I know what it means to be criticized. Positive and negative feedback from my coaches was just a part of my day. Thanks to sports, I learned that criticism has nothing to do with me as a person. It’s an element of my game or behavior that is criticized rather than my whole self.
My advice is not to take things personally and focus on improving this specific thing that you struggle with. I always try to see the good intentions behind negative feedback. Such an approach helps me grow as a professional and as a person.
--Dorota Lysienia, LiveCareer
Taking criticism is an art. Not everyone can take criticism but everyone can learn how to take one. Here's my advice to take criticism better - While criticism can be demoralizing and hurtful, you should take it in a positive way. Criticism gives you the opportunity to improve yourself.
First things first, do not lash out at the one criticizing you. Don't try to be defensive. Hold your horses, take a deep breath, give yourself some time before you react. Let a critical email in your inbox before you hit the reply button. Walk away from someone before saying something you'll regret later.
Criticism may be negative and rude, but you must understand that there is a nugget of gold in it. Think of criticism as someone's honest feedback. Find the positive in it. Thank the critic for sharing their thoughts with you. You never know, they might be having a bad day or maybe they are a negative person in general. Your gratitude will probably catch them off-guard!
Lastly, learn from the criticism - to get better - it's for you and not for them!
--Vikas Kalwani, Codeless
To really wrap our heads around the notion of ‘criticism’ is to understand the word at a definition level. As per Google “Criticism is the practice of judging the merits and faults of something.” That something could be each of us at the individual level. The term used for those delivering the commentary is “critic”. Yet, the notion of criticism requires perception by the receiver of the judgement, the commentary, or the opinion. This subtle, yet important aspect of perceived offense is what makes the discussion of legitimate criticism so very interesting; perhaps even fascinating. You, as the receiver of someone’s words, have to perceive it as judgement for it to be considered criticism. In fact, you have to perceive the person being in the role of a critic. So there is a personal mindset aspect to the topic. No surprise there I hope, as most individualized things and circumstances have inherent mindset considerations.
Now, in the online world, the belief of criticism flourishes because the platforms assign the role of a Critic to the masses, by using the term “Comments’ for their feedback areas. That sets everyone up to critique others, and conditions those subject to the comments to perceive criticism. In contrast, when the same masses interact on chat lines, they seem to communicate very differently and non-critically. Is that difference because the perception is one of having an interaction that is not based necessarily on feedback? I believe so, but what I have presented here is by no means scientific, but it is interesting. It is also based on my leadership experience of having many direct reports, and having matured my views of criticism.
Over the years, what I have observed and demonstrated is that people cannot criticize or insult those that do not perceive the commentary as such. For example, in my performance reviews, I have a career self-management discussion. I may present performance critique, but because it is formulated as a non-critical discussion, no offense is taken by staff. In fact, quite the opposite. They usually express gratitude for my shared interest and encouragement in their career growth outcomes. Even for myself, when on the opposite side of the desk, I position my leader as a Mentor. I present my aspirations for myself relevant to the company and the role, and I seek their guidance and thoughts for that plan. What all this means and demonstrates is that each of us actually holds the power to manage our response, by seeing every encounter with a non-critical lens, and influencing what type of encounter we have. It is also about seeing personalized feedback as an opportunity to evaluate the merit for personal improvement. If our own evaluation of the information provided, comes back that an opportunity exists, then we either choose to seize that opportunity, or choose not to seize that opportunity. Applying this mindset to these types of interactions, brings you arms-length from personalizing the comments of others. Translating such feedback into a choice that lies with you, empowers your response reactions.
--Jenn Drakes, ICANNWORLD