Expert tips and advice on how to assertively and effectively deal with fair and unfair criticism

Author: Elly Prior | First published: 23-09-2010 | Modified: 24-10-2017

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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.

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 (20 min minimum if possible).

Try, if at all possible, to 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.

How not to let it get the better of you

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:

10 Tips to effectively deal with criticism

  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. Ask calmly 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!)
  8. Come back to the conversation and start by calming stating that you've thought about it carefully
  9. Give the giver of the message some credit for starters, even if for offering you an opportunity to reflect on the situation or to discuss it
  10. State your view of the situation kindly, but assertively (even if you have to fake it!)

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. Here are some tips to handle it.

5 Questions you should ask yourself

  1. Whose problem is it really?
  2. Are you rating the critical person's opinion of you higher than your own?
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

You can discuss it all with a professional, licensed therapist. It's now very easy to set up an online session, regardless of the device you're using. For further information see my page on mental health counselling.

... Oh, by the way - you're not alone ;-)

There is so much more to you!

Whatever the reason was for you having to deal with criticism, just remember that there's so much more to you than whatever it was that got criticised.

  • you are not your thoughts
  • you are not your feelings
  • you are not your behaviour

In addition, if any of these happen to apply to you:

  • you are not your work
  • you are not your art
  • you are not your performance
  • you are not your scores
  • you are not your sport
  • you are not your last photo-shoot
  • you are not your music

Whether or not you're involved in the performing arts, music, sport, fashion, TV or you're a minor or a major celebrity - there is much more to you than any of these aspects.  

Do remember to remind yourself of at least three things you've achieved today (NOT connected with any of the above) and three things you like about yourself, before you go to sleep.

If you've felt let down in any relationship, however old you were and for whatever reason, your self-esteem might be in your boots. I recommend Build Your Self-Esteem - via my page Self-Hypnosis FAQ - an effective and safe hypnosis download.

If you're more sensitive to the opinions of others than you would like, I really suggest you get the Care Less What Others Think download.

What about that critical person?

None of the following points are offered as excuses, but they may explain and help put things in context when you've been unfairly criticised.

Is your critic...

  • irrational due to physical or emotional strain?
  • unskilled in communicating?
  • lacking in emotional intelligence?
  • acting on behalf of someone else?
  • making assumptions based on his/her perspective of the world
  • feeling insecure, because you're a threat - maybe you are/have become better than him/her!

Remember though, that your learning may not just be about knowledge and skills - it can also be about 'people', 'life' and mostly - yourself.

Are you in a relationship with someone who is generally abusive? If so, your biggest learning will come when you recognise and change old patterns of behaviour in yourself.

Are you your own worst critic?

Are you beating yourself up?  Are you constantly critical of yourself? Is there a critic sitting on your shoulder forever undermining you? Are you always giving yourself a hard time? Do you tell yourself that...

... you look ridiculous
... you're no good
... you're showing yourself up
... you'll never 'make it'
... your work is rubbish? 
... you're a failure
... you're unlovable

Constant self-criticism makes it harder for you to deal appropriately with criticism from others.

In a sense, you're bullying yourself. It's very unlikely that you'd say the things you're telling yourself to your best friend. Yet you're happy to undermine yourself?  Now is the time to change that!

9 Ways to cut yourself a little slack

  1. Start by just noticing - without condemning. Just be curious about what kind of situations cause you to become particularly self-critical
  2. Ask yourself if you'd be happy to undermine your best friend in the same way
  3. Simply notice things that you can do better - there's an advantage to being self-observant without being overly critical
  4. Commit to doing all you can to do better next time
  5. Learn to laugh at yourself
  6. Remember: today's drama is tomorrow's bin-liner!
  7. If you're a real worrier or you suffer from anxiety then hop over to my review of a well-researched and more importantly - effective - method to help you Overcome Your Anxiety For Good
  8. Hypnosis is both effective and very user-friendly, so do have a look at the Tame Your Inner Critic or Stop Self-Criticism self hypnosis downloads. Find out more on my page on Self-Hypnosis FAQ and download
  9. Talk it over with a professional, licensed therapist. You can do that right here. It's very to set up an online session. See my page on online counselling.

Constructive or destructive criticism?

It's inevitable that we'll all face both constructive and destructive criticism during our lives. But don't worry - you can learn to cope with both.

Here are 6 steps to help you on your way...
(Oh, and I do know they're easier said than done, but I would love you to dig deep and start somewhere.)

How to accept appropriate, realistic and fair criticism

  1. Accept the criticism - we all make mistakes
  2. Accept the criticism calmly
  3. Agree briefly, depending on what happened
  4. Avoid endless explanations and excuses
  5. Make amends and ask for feedback
  6. Learn from your mistakes, let it go and move on

Having considered everything and decided the criticism was fair - try to take it on the chin. As a workplace counsellor I often help people deal with their feelings after negative feedback - even if it was fair. I remind them that "today's drama is tomorrow's bin liner".

Dealing with criticism can offer an opportunity to learn. If at all possible, accept the feedback as a gift. It'll motivate you to do better, change your ways, adjust your communication - or whatever it is that you need to do.

Ultimately it will make you stronger.

Thank your critic for the honest feedback. Ask him or her for any advice - if appropriate - and ask for an opportunity to have another conversation some time in the future. This will let you discuss what you've done to deal with the criticism and to show the progress you've made.

You may also want to have a look at my page How to Apologise... just in case.

How to deal with destructive criticism

If you're dealing with criticism and you've had to put up with judging, put downs, attacks, trivialising, blaming, sarcasm and sneering - it's time to consider your options.

Unrelenting criticism and name calling is emotional abuse and bullying. It's about power and control and it's totally unacceptable. No one deserves such an 'onslaught'.

If you're stuck in that kind of a relationship, whether at home or at work, then please do seek help. It's fair enough to have to deal with being criticised at times, but there's a huge difference between someone who's critical on occasions and someone who's a bully.

When your self-esteem is in your boots, you may need a friend to help you see where the boundaries of what is 'acceptable' lie.

Image quote: You have courage in abundance, if every day you get up, knowing you're having to face a negative situation - yet you do it, you get on with it. Use that courage when deciding on your next step.

When you anticipate having to deal with criticism

Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.


Aristotle

You may just need to accept that you're going to be criticised - regardless of what you do. You really can't please everyone - particularly not if you...

... manage a team
... are a entrepreneur
... own your own company
... are a politician
... or just are successful in whatever you do.  

There will be people who will be critical of you. There will also be people for whom you are never going to get it right, whatever you do. There will also be people for whom nobody is going to ever get it right.

In fact, whatever your position - you're going to be criticised for sure. But you can bolster yourself - you have control over you. (Mind you, it's worth remembering that you don't have control over anyone else - whether or not you're dealing with criticism.)

How to increase your self-belief

Criticised too often? Can't change the situation? One way you can learn how to handle your critic is by boosting your self-esteem and doing some assertiveness training. Then, when you're next criticised you'll be able to deal with your critic calmly and confidently.

I've teamed up with a super company - I know their work and trust their business ethics: HypnosisDownloads.

The right self-hypnosis download is just about the most cost effective tool I know for helping anyone to improve how they feel about and deal with life.

Find even more information, tips and advice on these pages...

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I frequently update my articles based on feedback, therefore I really value your vote. If you think I've missed something, please do let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much in anticipation. :-)

Related articles

How to Deal with Depression
How to Build Your Self-Esteem
How to Communicate Effectively
Cutting the Arguments
How to Get over Someone
Problem Solving Strategies
How to End a Relationship
Signs and Symptoms of a Burn-out

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Elly Prior

Hello you! :-)

It's me - Elly Prior, I'm the Founder and Author of this site. I'm a 'real' person! I'm hoping to make a positive difference, small or large, to every person who visits my site.

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