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How to Take Criticism Positively

Updated on March 23, 2013

Learning How to Respond to Criticism or Feedback

There is no one best answer for how you can respond to negative feedback or criticism because there are so man variables in the possible scenarios of giver and receiver alone. Throw in potential circumstances surrounding the criticism or feedback, and there are thousands more possibilities.

Even though there is no one best answer to learn how to respond to criticism positively, there are some general ideas to keep in mind when criticism or feedback comes your way.

How you feel after receiving criticism? Does it matter who the person is that leveled the criticism, or whether the comment was warranted?
How you feel after receiving criticism? Does it matter who the person is that leveled the criticism, or whether the comment was warranted? | Source

You Won't Please All of the People All of the Time

Abraham Lincoln, a man known for his wisdom, once said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

So it goes for pleasing people. There will be times when no one is unhappy or unsatisfied with decisions you've made or actions you've taken. There will be other times, likely to be more numerous than the first group, where one or more people are less than enthusiastic or on-board with your action and decisions. There may also be times when you are standing alone with your ideas, decisions or actions.

The lesson, then, is that your expectations should match reality. If you expect that things you've said or done may meet with disapproval or outright criticism from others, then you'll be neither surprised or disappointed when that expectation is met. And, for those rarer occasions when everyone seems to be in agreement with you, the positivity of that will override your "disappointment" when your expectations of criticism or negative feedback were not met.


The Higher the Rank, the More You're Criticized

Think about it: Very few of us criticize the "little guy/gal." We save our disagreement and criticism for those in positions to make policy and decisions. The higher you go on the totem pole of life, the more likely you are to draw criticism for your decisions and actions, particularly when those decisions and actions affect a large group of people, whether they be co-workers, constituents, family members or the public at large.

Again, allow your expectations to match the reality of your circumstances.

Listen to the feedback and criticism; listen with an open mind. You needn't respond immediately, but ask if you can take some time to consider what's been said or written after verbalizing or writing your understanding of the issues being questioned or condemned to ensure you are understanding the message.

Five Strategies to Handle Criticism

Accept the Other Person's Perspective

How to Handle Personal Criticism

Criticism of any kind is hurtful, at least initially. That's why you should take a moment before responding to it to gather your thoughts, acknowledge your feelings, then move forward. When you have time to review the criticizing message or feedback, you may see that there is some merit to it. That takes some of the sting out of the criticism and gives you the opportunity to address whatever may need to be changed or corrected.

Harsh criticism, to me, is more than about criticizing what actions I've taken or decisions I've made. Harsh criticism is the kind that goes beyond those things and becomes directed at me in a personal way.

The sting of personal criticism can weigh heavily on you, if you let it. If, instead, you treat criticism directed at your intelligence, morals, ethics or more as you would a bully in the schoolyard, which is to not react to the taunts, you will have disarmed the critic.

Go one step further by thanking the critic for his/her input. Do so with a level tone of voice and making eye contact if talking in person. Control your body language; avoid crossing your arms over your chest or turning away from the person speaking -- in other words, stand your ground in an assertive, but not aggressive, manner.

When you respond to the non-personal portion of the criticism or feedback, respond only to the non-personal portion of the question or concern. Keep the tone in your response assertive; don't resort to passive-aggressive (often sarcastic) or aggressive communication. Show that you are the bigger person in this interaction by bringing it back to the topic at hand.

If you feel you must discuss the personal criticism with the person who made it, do so separately from handling the non-personal criticism. Just remember, most of the time that personal criticism leveled toward you only has the value you assign to it. Letting it pass may be the wiser choice, but situations and the type of personal criticism may dictate otherwise.

How to Give Constructive Criticism


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    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Healthylife2, I think it's unfortunate that some people seem to view their absence of criticism should be considered a form of praise. I find I have less difficulty accepting criticism from those who also take time to note accomplishments, however small.

      I take this idea one step further by finding something sincere and positive to say to the people in my life from time to time and to people I encounter throughout my daily life. It takes so little effort on my part and may make a difference in the day for someone else.

      Thanks for reading, commenting and Sharing.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      These truly are words of wisdom! This is a situation we all face at some point. I have learned that taking time before responding to criticism seems to make all the difference. That gives me time to take the emotion out of it as I learned in law school and consider the comment with an open mind. Also, just responding to the issue rather than personal attacks is great advice. I also try to use this technique when responding to some comments on my hubs if they are overly aggressive although this doesn't happen often. Voted up and shared!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Denise, while these things are true, it doesn't necessarily make it easy to follow them. For me, as I've matured and grown in my own self esteem I've found it a little easier to step back a moment and reflect on the message of the criticism.

      Perhaps the fiercest critic of all is our own inner-critic. Now that critter is all but impossible to escape, but we can "shout him down" with positive self-talk.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I like your recommendation to separate the information given from the giver. Most criticism, although hurtful, is also informational. Allowing ourselves to let the hurtful part bounce off while sifting out the informational part is difficult, but allows us to learn from the experience, and not take it personally. Thanks for the reminder that criticism reflects more on the giver than on the receiver!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Anahita-mahdi, I'm so pleased you found this information useful. Kudos to you for recognizing you have an issue with being too defensive and being pro-active in your approach to resolve that issue.

      I think it's helpful to consider that the way criticism is offered by others says more about them than it does the receiver. Personal attacks have no value in resolving anything, just don't let your immediate inner emotional response cloud your objectivity to the underlying concern of the critic.

      I wish you success in overcoming your defensiveness.

    • anahita-mahdi profile image

      Anahita 5 years ago from Toronto

      Great piece! I am working on my defensiveness so this was like a how-to manual for the really difficult to handle critiques. Thank you!