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How to Handle Criticism



Criticism is a normal part of our daily involvement with other people. For most of us, our instinctive reaction to insight other people may have for us is to feel defensive; we do not want anyone to think we are not already competent and capable of handling our responsibilities. Unfortunately, this defensiveness also prevents us from recognizing the value of other people’s input and learning from their experience. Sometimes, our refusal to accept criticism meant for our own good can cause problems in our relationships, finances, employment or education.


So, how do we let go of defensiveness and position ourselves to make the most of advice we receive, even when we do not want it? Here are some ideas on making the most of the insights offered by others:


1. Develop self-awareness. What is your tendency when it comes to receiving criticism? Do you become defensive and lash out with criticism of your own? Do you ignore criticism, even if it might help you? Do you feel like a failure and beat yourself up for not being perfect? Or, instead, do you take time to reflect on the criticism and find any truth you can use for self-improvement?


2. Determine whether this is constructive criticism or destructive criticism. Does the person offering the criticism have knowledge or experience I do not have? Do they simply have a different perspective that could be useful to me? Is this person trying to be helpful to me, or do they have some ulterior motive, such as their own jealousy, need to feel important, or pettiness? Often, we can learn something from others, even though they may be younger than us, seem less capable or even don’t seem to like us. With the right perspective, even when others intend their criticism to be destructive, we may find some constructive value in it.


3. Is there some truth in the criticism? Before giving into the urge to dismiss their comments as simply being petty or jealous, ask yourself, “Is there some aspect to what they say that is valid?” Even someone who seems to want to tear you down with their criticism may have some useful points that you can grow from. You can evaluate this with questions such as, “Is the criticism reasonable?”, “What am I doing that would give someone that impression?”, “Have I heard similar feedback in the past?”, “Is the feedback about something important to me?”


4. Recognize that you do not have to respond. You may immediately see the value in the criticism you receive. If so, you can ask for specific examples that will help you improve. Then, you can respond with, “I see what you mean; I appreciate you telling me.” There will also be many times when you doubt the value of someone’s input. In that case, you can respond with, “Thank you; I’ll give this some thought.” You may also choose not to respond at all if you feel the criticism is only meant to demean you.


5. Criticism does not affect your value as a person. Recognize that your identity, confidence and value as a person do not hinge on someone else’s opinion. You are free to accept or reject any part of the criticism, based on the value you see in it, who is giving it, and what you determine their motive to be.


6. Remain calm. You may need some time to fully reflect on the value of the criticism. Our initial defensiveness often makes it difficult to accept the value of someone’s feedback. However, once you are away from the situation and can evaluate it more objectively, you may find some truth in the criticism that you did not see at first. So, rather than reacting in a way you may regret, just keep your calm and give the person the benefit of a doubt that their criticism came with good intentions.


7. Accept accountability. There are some people who are entitled to give you constructive feedback. As we are interdependent on other people to get through life, there are some relationships that entail working together or following instructions to achieve our goals, such as an employer, a teacher, a parent or a spouse. When you expect others to provide an income, emotional support, financial support, training, etc., there are going to be strings attached which require hearing their concerns and taking their suggestions seriously, even when we may not fully agree with them.


The bottom line is that handling criticism all depends on your mindset. If you have a mindset that is defensive by nature and you are determined that no one is going to tell you anything, then you will magnify the self-doubt, anger and self-sabotaging thoughts that often keep people trapped in their circumstances. However, if you are open to growth and self-improvement, you can find something valuable in any feedback you receive, no matter who it is from or their underlying intent. It really is all in how you see it.



Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama

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