Dealing with criticism

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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If you're struggling to deal with criticism, I'm so glad you've landed here. I'm hoping to show you how you can deal with criticism more effectively. We're going to look at fair and unfair criticism and how best to deal with it regardless of the way it is delivered. 

Criticism and rejection - though part of life - can often be upsetting and may even leave a lasting bitter taste. You can end up feeling miserable, angry, hurt and so on. You might be 'miffed' or 'crushed' - and you may want to 'hit back'... but trust me when I say that just isn't going to sort it.

Endless rumination (negative thinking) won't help either. Instead it'll just undermine your self-esteem and waste your precious energy.

Criticism can be a form of bullying on the one hand, and on the other hand - if it's delivered by someone who genuinely has your best interests at heart - it can be a gift. This is particularly so if that person has expertise in the appropriate field.

I really hope I can help you learn how to deal with criticism of you, your behaviour or your work - major or minor, at home or in the work place.

In case this page isn't quite what you're looking for, you may also want to visit other related pages, such as How to Deal With Rejection.

Being defensive is not a helpful response

You will miss the point if you immediately react defensively. Instead, try not to...

... automatically take it personally

... react aggressively to it

... immediately try and prove the other person wrong

... concentrate on finding fault in the other person

How do you take criticism?

The more emotional we are, the more limited our thinking becomes, and the more questionable our reactions are.

If you're learning a new skill and you're being given some feedback you don't like, the first step is to accept that you cannot learn anything new without making mistakes. That has nothing to do with you personally - it's all about how your brain works.

Your brain has to develop new neural pathways for the messages about that particular skill or action to flow through. Compare it with trying to find your way around a new town - you take wrong turnings until you become familiar with the place. Then suddenly you barely notice how you get from A to B because your actions have become automatic.

So, how do you take criticism? Well... if you allow yourself to get upset by being steered or guided through feedback, your emotions will get in the way of your learning.

If you're upset and/or angry after having received a dressing down, my best advice is to distract and calm yourself for a while.

If at all possible and appropriate, spend a little time engaging in a favourite activity, hobby or interest. You could go for a walk/run/cycle ride, talk to a friend, listen to calming music - or whatever feels right for you.

Do anything you need to in order to calm yourself right down. Only then consider all your options for dealing with the criticism.

7 ways to deal with criticism

Even when you ask for feedback, are prepared for trouble and expect to be able to handle it - you may still be surprised by your own immediate reaction. So, when you're dealing with criticism (fair or unfair) here are some ideas on what to do next:

  1. Determine if the critic has all the information - don't be afraid to assert yourself
  2. Ensure the information is accurate and unbiased (as far as possible)
  3. Calmly ask for further explanation
  4. Find out how the information was gathered
  5. Consider if there is a misunderstanding
  6. Consider whether the intent may have been to deliberately hurt you
  7. Ask for a break to do some thinking (and to calm down!)

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots."


Frank A. Clark

Dealing with unfair criticism

Questionable criticism can feel even harsher. To help you handle it, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Whose problem is it really?
  • Are you rating the critical person's opinion of you higher than your own?
  • Are you setting yourself up to be criticised? I know this is a really tricky one, because bullying can be so subtle that you barely notice it starting
  • Is it really a power struggle? This is linked with the previous point. This is about being honest with yourself. If you know you're not playing that power game, then do not beat yourself up about it.
  • Is it about one-upmanship, competition, retaliation or control? This may point to you being bullied, depending on the length of time it's been going on

Even constructive criticism can feel really uncomfortable. However, gentle feedback - which includes drawing out all of your strengths - allows you to learn something about yourself.

If you would like to discuss it all with a professional counsellor, you can do so now right from my website.

Hop over to Part 2 of Dealing with Criticism to discover that there really is so much more to you than whatever was criticised! 

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Image courtesy of: Daniel Kulinski