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Nobody enjoys being criticized.
Even when it’s meant to be what people call, “constructive criticism”, being told you need to improve upon something can sting… especially when you didn’t see it coming.
Whether it’s school-related, in the workplace or your personal life… preparing yourself for how to handle criticism well is crucial when it comes to making an impression on others.
You never want to let someone know that their comments have rattled you in anyway because that shows weakness.
Conversely, you want criticizers to view you as open minded and somewhat appreciative for the feedback (even if you don’t really feel that way).
You need to be seen as someone who can take criticism like a champ – and then be able to apply that critique to make some alterations to your particular situation or mindset.
Obviously, this is easier said than done.
Because we are human… and we have this little thing called pride that tends to get in the way from time to time. It may even lead to stubbornness.
Those feelings are normal.
That has to change if you ever want to truly succeed in life.
And lucky for you, I’ve come up with 7 amazing strategies to help you positively deal with constructive criticism… starting now.
7 Positive Ways to Handle Criticism
1. Stop Your First Reaction in Its Tracks/Don’t Become Defensive
What’s the first instinct an animal has when someone threatens their young?
You will often see a mama bear growl if you come too close to her cub.
Or a buck raise his mighty antlers and dig his hooves if you dare mess with his does.
And the dog raising its fur and showing its teeth when you get too close to their pup.
On many levels, animals are not all that different from us when it comes to raw instinct.
If someone is attacking, you go on the defense.
It’s in our nature.
But one of the key weapons for how to handle criticism is to resist the urge to react adversely. In fact, you want to try and stop your defense mechanism from taking over and actually let your guard down a bit.
Keep your poker face.
Don’t ever let them see you cry.
As hard as it may be to resist the urge to react adversely, you need to try and train your brain to view this critique in a different light.
Tell yourself that it’s coming from a positive place… and is not meant to start a battle you can’t win.
Take a deep breath and think about:
Then simply let the air out and offer a polite smile.
To learn more about growth mindset, watch the video below to learn about the 11 actionable strategies you can use to develop it.
2. Tell Yourself That Feedback Is A Good Thing
In many instances where constructive criticism is given… it is coming from an employer, colleague, mentor, family member or friend.
And that means the chances of them wanting to see you fail is slim to none.
Get rid of the stigma surrounding the word criticism by treating it as positive feedback. Tell yourself that any advice that could potentially lead to self improvement is a good thing.
It’s really a wording issue, in many cases.
It sounds so ugly. Harsh. Unforgiving.
But positive feedback sounds helpful, enlightening even.
That’s why businesses ask for customer reviews and say, “We appreciate your feedback!”.
It’s how they get better.
By simply changing the way you view these critiques, you will be well on your way to how to handle criticism much better in the future.
3. Practice Active Listening
The art of active listening is one that can help you in many facets of your life… relationships, child rearing, school, work.
And when it comes to handling criticism, it can be an extremely useful tool.
Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice… and isn’t all that complicated a concept to grasp.
It basically involves training your mind to fully concentrate on what is being said, rather than just passively hearing the message of the speaker.
Picture a paleontologist using tools to gently brush away dirt and debris from a fossil… doing so is the only way to uncover what is really underneath the find.
Same goes for the person giving you constructive criticism.
If you initiate active listening, your brain will be able to dig beyond the surface of what is being said and discover its true intent.
4. Ask for Clarification, Have Them Cite Specifics
Even if you weren’t expecting the criticism, or aren’t necessarily in agreement with what is being said, it is important to “fake it”.
In other words, nod a lot and make eye contact.
Then, once they’ve said their peace, compose your thoughts and ask questions.
Seek clarification and request that they cite any specific examples of instances or actions where you fell short in their eyes.
That lets them know you value their opinion and are open to taking steps to improve.
The last thing you want in this situation is to have a cavalier attitude. If you appear to not care about their opinions or input, then their reaction may be less than ideal.
You run the risk of making them feel insignificant to you, which may put them on the defensive… and things can go terribly wrong from there.
In the workplace, this may be viewed as your nonchalance with regards to moving up the ranks.
At home, you may be seen as not caring enough about your significant other’s feelings.
In school, it may appear you don’t care about improving your grades.
Again, the criticism may not always be warranted or appreciated; but, seeking clarification puts you in the driver's seat by directing the way things are going to go moving forward.
5. Express Gratitude for Their Insight
As Thumper’s mother told him in the Disney cartoon classic, Bambi, “If you can't say something nice… don't say nothing at all.”.
And that is so true.
When attempting to master how to handle criticism well, it is imperative to say “thank you” for the critique, even if you don’t really mean it.
Expressing gratitude for their opinions and insights makes you seem like the bigger person… someone capable of facing their shortcomings head-on and taking control of the situation.
This is not to be confused with doubting yourself and blindly thanking the person for pointing out things that you could stand to improve upon.
Instead, think of it as thanking them for caring enough to want you to succeed.
6. Do Not Take the Criticism Personally
If you want to program your brain how to handle criticism well… you need to remember this: whatever you do, do not take the criticism personally. (You can learn to become less sensitive and develop thick skin.)
Doing so will risk sending you into a downward spiral of self doubt… where you feel the need to start defending everything you do and why you do it.
Questioning the very fabric of who you are.
Criticism can take a real toll on some people, posing a blow to their self-esteem… and that’s normal.
But what is not normal is letting it have a long-term effect on your mindset.
You cannot let the feedback define you.
Instead, tell yourself that despite the hiccup, you are still valued. If you weren’t, the person wouldn’t care enough to take the time to help you improve.
7. Make Sure to Follow Up
Once you’ve had time to let the feedback sink in, you may want to consider making a “point/counter point” list.
Sit down and reflect on the criticism and gather your thoughts.
Have a debate with yourself, or an unbiased person you trust, and then come up with a plan.
Once you’ve laid down the groundwork, request a follow-up to discuss your next moves with the person who dulled out the criticism.
Especially if the issue was a rather significant one, it shouldn’t go unaddressed and be left open-ended for very long.
Use the follow-up as an opportunity to ask more questions and agree on a tangible course of action.
Sometimes, simply stepping away from a situation we feel too close to is the best way to gain perspective.
Final Thoughts on Handling Criticism
Nobody likes to be told they are doing something wrong… or that they aren’t making the cut.
Self-doubt is an ugly feeling that many of us would like to see left in the past, along with many of the unpleasant aspects of childhood.
The days when bullies and puberty ruined many a day.
Sadly, that is often not the case.
Self-doubt has a way of hanging on… rearing its ugly head when we least expect it.
Criticism, whether constructive or not, is proof positive of that.
We cannot stop it from happening, it’s a part of life… and we have little control over how other people see us.
But what we do have control over is how we handle the criticism.
Using the steps outlined above, you can equip yourself with the tools needed to handle the criticism like a pro.
Take it in, sort it out and change what you can.
Never make it personal.
Get yourself in a healthy mindset and you can face anything.
And if you're looking for more resources to help you handle or even give criticism better, be sure to read these articles:
- 9 Proven Constructive Criticism Examples for Your Workplace
- 11 Healthy Ways to Deal with Failure in Your Life
- 33 Growth Mindset Examples to Change Your Beliefs
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications, and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization, and product reviews.