how to handle criticism

How to Handle Criticism (Even When it’s Harsh)

“Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do.
But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

You’ve spent months working on a project. Proud, you show your work off to everyone you know: your partner, family, friends, colleagues and boss. Then, one of then turns around and shreds it to pieces. You feel yourself burn a bright red and your heart starts pounding. Something heavy glugs in the pit of your stomach, and you’re left stinging and ashamed for days or potentially months after.

Criticism comes in different forms. It can be a gentle nudge from your mother, a passive-aggressive remark from your partner or a confrontational but frank email from your boss.

No matter how fair, accurate or unfair we deem the criticism, many walk away from it feeling attacked. To them, all criticism is a sharp reminder that there’s something ‘wrong’ with them and that they aren’t ‘good enough’. Criticism has a subtle and sneaky way of tapping into our insecurities and self-esteem, and it’s even more prevalent if you’ve shared such vulnerabilities with others who may use them against you.

 

Learning to Embrace Criticism

 

Criticism can hurt, but it will never hurt you as much as you can hurt yourself. Turning a blind eye, disregarding criticism as “hate” or allowing criticism to eat away at you and destroy all your dreams and prospects does more damage to you, your future and your sense of self-worth than any critique.

Avoiding criticism isn’t conducive to growth, and being that person who withholds all critique for fear of being offensive or upsetting is choosing to be dishonest. I’m not saying we should go around being brutally honest with people and forgo white lies altogether, but shunning criticism (both as a recipient and conduit) is unproductive.

Others’ points of view, be they cruel, invalid, truthful, or reliable, but each viewpoint has a lesson buried in it. Neutralising all feedback, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, is a healthier way to approach criticism than becoming hostile or ashamed.

 

Neutralising Criticism

 

The moment you receive any criticism, listen.

Don’t react and don’t become emotional. Let the criticism sit on your tongue and think about all the flavours. Don’t jump back with excuses and ‘but’s. Savour the criticism, try and identify whether or not it tastes sour or sweet, then nod and accept it.

Ask for more of it.

Ask if the person has anything else they’d like to add to the critique. This way, you’ll be able to either garner even more useful criticism from them which will make you a better person in some way, or you’ll find out if they told you everything they’d have to say. Someone who is offering constructive feedback will either appreciate being trusted for their opinion or will reassure you by sincerely supporting you and expressing that they want you to be your best.

When receiving criticism, you don’t want to allow it to come in drips and drabs from a source: you should want it all up on the table in front of you at the same time. Receiving all criticism upfront not only saves your time, but it will spare your emotional energy.

Ask for Specifics

Many critics will take the easy route when it comes to criticism which is, usually, always personal. However, being told you’re ‘bad at your job’ or that you’re ‘lazy’ isn’t going to cut the mustard. Their criticism may be valid, but unless you know the specifics about their criticism and know where they’re forming these opinions of you, you’ll never be able to change for the better.

Take Responsibility for Yourself

Criticism can be hard to swallow, whether it’s a cruel slander of a gentle but honest call-out. However, wallowing in self-pity and resenting the critic or yourself won’t bring about positive change. Use criticism to your advantage. We do things wrong or inefficiently every day without even knowing, so see feedback as a blessing when you hear it. Or, if you know the critique is completely inaccurate, learn to be a better person at giving feedback than that person was to you.

Kain Ramsay
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As an established teacher of personal and professional growth principles, and a champion of mental well-being, Kain Ramsay is regarded as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders of modern applied psychology.