How to Deal with Criticism: Lessons You Can Learn Today

how to deal with criticism

 

Sometimes, facing criticism is simply hard.

The very first criticisms you’ve ever heard might’ve been alright, but as you get older, as your responsibilities abound, as the day gets longer, criticisms could just wear you out. The message may be well-intended, but you begin to notice the tone that message is delivered with, and then you think—quite differently—about the person who says it.

The good news, however, is you can learn how to deal with criticism like a boss. Even if generally, criticisms bear the red flag. Even if they’re vague. Even if they’re ridiculous. Who wants criticism? Who wants to be criticized? Who loves critical people?

And yes, of course, I’m talking about you being the center of all that fuss.

lady number flashcards
Does the score really matter?

You may already know what it’s like. First, someone sees your work. Then they tell you you’ve done a poor job. For some reason, you don’t take it too well, or they sense that you do. So next time, they don’t tell you about anything anymore. But they tell it to the others … kind of behind your back. And then suddenly, congratulations, you’ve got yourself a crowd, who unanimously thinks that the same work you’ve done isn’t that good. Yup, it becomes “you against the world.” What’s more, these people now seem to see all of your flaws, even though totally not related to the job anymore. They criticize how you make decisions, how you talk to people … they essentially become “expert critics” of your life.

How do that sound?

Well, if that’s the question you live by every day, you’re getting it wrong, because the question you should be asking is: Do I have a choice?

And the answer: As long as you can decide for yourself, yes.

Keep your cool.

Because the truth is, criticism is everywhere. It won’t disappear, ever. There will always be people who’ll find fault in what you do … or with you. Worse, the bigger the scope of your work gets, the more criticism you’ll receive.

For all you know, you are being criticized right now. Someone—whether a workmate or a family member or a friend—might be thinking about it right now. Perhaps it’s about that silly typo you missed, or about a project you’re wasting your time on, or about not being there for a friend when they needed you.

What could hit hard, however, is when you finally face criticism by surprise, explicitly, without reservations. There’s a huge difference between asking for feedback, and receiving unsolicited criticism.

It may take some exposure and practice, but most of the time, especially in a critical environment, getting used to hearing criticisms would simply be helpful. However, I don’t mean you must take everything to heart. In fact, not taking criticisms personally is a great skill to develop.

Allowing yourself to feel some anger or irritation upon hearing criticism should be fine, as long as you can manage those emotions after a while, and move on with the task at hand.

Think about it this way: You have two minds, the “thinking mind” and the “observing mind.” You can’t totally control what your “thinking mind” thinks, but through your “observing mind,” you can see yourself being in a situation in which you react with your “thinking mind.”

For instance, someone told you that you’d be better off in the other department, that you don’t really belong here. (Imagine that.) Your “thinking mind” will make you feel agitated with the person who said that, or with the next petty mistakes you’ll be making from that time on. That agitation will kick off, no matter what.

But if you change your perspective—if you think with your “observing mind”—you should start seeing this new person at the scene: yourself. You should see that this person is feeling that agitation, that the feeling is, all of a sudden, just normal, and that this person should now react properly, in a way that’s best for everyone and the working environment.

thinking observing
Thinking, observing.

It’s self-awareness. Imagining yourself from a third person’s point of view. It’s coming out of the box, where you can see things more clearly than when you simply allow yourself to blindly indulge in an emotional state you never wanted anyway.

You can watch out for your emotions. Believe it or not, you can minimize stress in such circumstances. When your emotions get pretty rough, don’t respond to criticism, as it usually does not lead to a happy ending.

Remember, criticism isn’t always about you. In many cases, criticism is a reflection of the people who give it, for reasons that tell about who they are, not who you are.

Everybody needs criticism.

If you’ve always thought otherwise, then let me spell it out for you again: You need criticism in your life.

I’ve learned that after all these years, it’s not really the messages that have put me off, but in the manner they’ve been said.

Criticism, by definition, is an expression of disapproval by pointing out faults.

If you think about it, criticism should help you grow and improve. Truth may hurt, but it’s the kind of hurt that should only be temporary, when you know that the rewards of hearing it are far greater.

Looking for your faults, or areas of improvement, may not be your favorite thing in the world to do, but it may be worth investing in.

So for instance, in your field of work, look for opportunities in which trusted people could take a look at your work and critique it. Join groups or workshops and show a piece of your work for criticism.

Celebrating small wins is great, but looking to improve your skills through criticism could be just as important.

When you hear criticism even with the most special project you’re on, understand that you simply might need those little albeit very important information.

Filter out criticisms you don’t need, focus on the gems.

I don’t mean to say that “filtering out” is just as easy as throwing a piece of paper to the trash can.

Take care of yourself.

We need positive feedback more than the negative one. More specifically, research says about six positive feedbacks for every one negative feedback. It means negativity can weaken our drive more than positivity can better it. Another study shows we tend to remember negative events more than positive ones. Consequently, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.

Deal with criticism at your own pace. Write down those you can’t deal with at a certain period of time and get back to them when you’re ready.

Continuous practice will make you stronger in facing criticism. Just remember that there’s always good in criticism, that it always has something to tell you that you can benefit from tremendously.

In case you need to shut off criticism, however, just do so. Although gems can be found in this kind of negativity, negativity must still be controlled. Don’t forget to take rest and recharge.

I can think of two credible sources of criticism.

One is someone of authority. He could be your boss, an expert, or generally, someone you trust. You want to hear from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

The other one is a common idea that surfaces among the sea of criticisms. These criticisms may not necessarily come from experts or people of influence, of course. But if, for example, all criticisms talk about a common idea, then you’ll know it should be worth looking into.

trash bin
You can just do it, though.

Although I’ve been discussing that criticism should be good for your health, don’t wear yourself down. Consistently assess how you go about criticism, because one thing you wouldn’t want to compromise is your happiness. As the studies above show, criticism can impact our way of thinking more than positive feedback, if we receive both in same amounts.

So it’s always best not to take criticism personally. You are the only one who truly knows yourself—what you can do, how much time you need to do it. You are the one who decides for yourself.

Even if criticisms are thrown at you, you have the power to choose what you could do right now. People can say whatever they want, but you have the choice to listen to or keep your distance from them—while working on the mission you were born to do.

Don’t take action. Take massive action.

I must admit, the term “take action” sometimes gets the best of me … because it remains only a term. I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and I know I should work on improving both of them. But sometimes I just get caught in analysis paralysis. I think a lot, and by the time I think I’m ready to jump into action—a week would have already passed.

Have you had a similar experience?

Criticism is only a part of learning, which won’t really sink in unless you wisely integrate it into your daily life. Getting caught in a “learning” marathon is so easy—you read books, you subscribe to those fancy webinars, or, well, you contemplate every criticism you receive.

But the whole point, no matter what everybody else says, is to look for or create the system that will work for you. Because heck, there’s no such thing as “get-rich-quick” or “overnight” success. And because heck, I bet those so-called critics only imply the question, “Where is it now?” or, “Can you prove it already, right now?” or, “Aren’t you supposed to be doing the right thing now?”

If you want something, it will take time, it will stress you out, it will challenge almost every aspect of your life, it will change you. It will become a part of you.

calendar
It ticktocks, too.

So you see, criticism is, well, simply criticism. You can think about criticism for the whole damn night. You can think about that egotripping guy who chose the wrong words. You can wonder what those people have been deprived of to say something, repeatedly, that doesn’t help at all.

But they’re just criticism. You’ll eventually know the very core of what they’re saying; you’ll identify the nonsense. After all has been said, what are you going to do anyway?

Seriously, develop your sense of humor.

A friend of mine told me a story how he saw a “funny-looking man” on the train. He kept looking at the man for a long time, he was smiling because of the man, until my friend realized he already missed his station. He had to switch trains for … you know … we don’t really know what he was thinking.

I’m not trying to be humorous here, really. I’m only pointing out that my friend has this sense of humor, uniquely to him, that he can smile anytime, anywhere, even when he’s alone.

Living with criticism may be a norm to you, it’s already there, whether you like it or not. But unlike criticism, having a sense of humor is something that doesn’t just come to you. Whether you’re having a bad day, or a glorious one, you can look for a funny in almost everything.

Humor is a great way to remind yourself about your happiness. It’s a manifestation that no matter what you’re going through, not even through harsh criticisms, you can still choose to smile, laugh and be happy. By looking to see the “humorous” side of things, you help yourself understand that criticisms are only a part of life, and that there’s no way they should take over your wellbeing.

“Outside” support systems strike the balance.

You’ll eventually find a support system within a significant group you’re with every day.

Consider these three major people in your life: your family at home, your colleagues at work, and your friends outside of the regular grind. If you’re dealing with criticism, on top of stress from the daily activities, interacting with different support systems can be of huge help.

One way I found that could make my relationships more dynamic is by encouraging talking about, or trying, something other than what the group serves or does.

For instance, when you’re at home, instead of talking about who will do this household chore, why not watch an interesting documentary and discuss it during dinnertime? Or when at work, talk to a colleague about how you maintain your regular exercise. Or when with your best friends … is there really something you can’t talk about with your best friends?

dog catI’m not preaching avoid talking about the important matters. There simply should be balance between the different areas of your life, between your different roles. Unless perhaps you’re obsessed with, say, work, you shouldn’t be too serious about it that you forget the things that make you sane—with which your support network can help you.

Although having a few, very close people is crucial, having support systems from the different groups in your life is also important, especially if you’re a person who tends to attract criticism because of your position, ideas or beliefs.

In short, build your support network, within the different groups in your life, as huge as you can.

Remember why you’re doing this.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson you’ll learn as far as dealing with criticism is concerned.

There can only be so much anybody can say, so much criticism that for sure even means nothing.

But you’ll lose to criticism only if you let it veer you off from the goals you’ve been long working for.

Always remember that criticism is only a teeny part of that big life that you have. As such, you can always decide whether you’ll change something because of criticism, or you’ll keep going anyway because you already know it and because you’re going to prove a lot of those naysayers wrong and because yes … they’re utterly wrong.

If any, criticism should strengthen your desire to reach your goals. It shouldn’t discourage you—even though the way it’s being delivered is almost always discouraging. Because as you know by now, there are gems among criticisms. With the right attitude, you should see your desires, dreams and goals clearer and clearer as you keep going.

When it’s finally your turn, you should know better.

You know how it feels to be criticized, right? Already been there? You know how those “critics” point their weakness in you?

Now learn from it.

As you move on, as you achieve greater goals, as you become a bigger player—someone will need to receive criticism from you, in any way possible. And as someone who knows better, you should be the person who actually helps someone—not the one who suddenly becomes the know-it-all type, the type everybody hates.

Don’t think, “I’ve been harshly criticized before. Why doesn’t this young blood deserve it?” Try to understand those “critics.” Don’t you think they just pass along what they’ve experienced in the past? Possibly, possibly not.

In any case, my point is this: 99% of those critics speak of things that’d only feed their own satisfaction. Their criticism is about them, not about you.

odd man outDon’t be like them.

Be like the 1% who you’ve listened to, who you’ve put your faith in, who respect and care for you.

Now, this isn’t about how to deal with criticism per se, but if you help someone by giving them criticism the right way, by gaining their trust in you, then for sure you’d have already learned what criticism is all about.

Think About It

Criticism is a sort of tough love. You don’t want it—you need it. The thing about tough love, however, is that you can quite hide from it. Because who doesn’t want to feel all safe and comfy … right?

Think about your everyday decisions for a minute. You know they should be important—or at least urgent. There is that rush that flows through your body—the rush that pushes you just so you can survive until bedtime.

On the other hand, what do you think about criticism? About the criticism you receive? Is it important, too?

Remember, change does not happen overnight. Perhaps some criticisms hurt because you think there’s just no way to fix that thing that’s going on. Perhaps that’s true—but realize it’s only for the time being.

Criticism is a gift and reminder. Criticism tells you to work on what you can work on now—consistently—because you must be doing something very alien to everybody else (read naysayers) that when you finally succeed, you’ll blow their mind, even if, of course, they’ll keep looking for something else to criticize … again.

Speak Your Mind

How do you deal with criticism? I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Think criticism should always be a good thing? Share this if you found this helpful!

8 Comments

  1. Wow! what an in depth analysis of a complicated topic such as this!
    Criticisms are extremely important to keep improving. Sooner we learn to act maturely, better it is for us! Recently I have learned to take even the negative feedback in a constructive manner and gladly it has helped.
    I can feel how hard you might have worked on this post, Ethan. Keep writing.
    Thank you for the post.

    1. Hey Tuhin,

      Thanks for the kind words and the encouragement.

      Attitude could become the deal-breaker. Everybody receives criticism–it’s only a question of what we’re going to do with it.

  2. Hi Ethan,

    I so agree with the tone of delivery. I think that when people speak with a certain tone what is said is no longer being heard and the other person’s guard is up.

    I like your point about filtering the criticism. While you might not like what you’re hearing they can still be some helpful tips buried in there.

    Typically I try not to take criticism too personally. When you feel like you’re being attacked it’s hard to hear anything else. So this would help me apply your other tips. 🙂

    ~Lea

    1. Hi Lea,

      Thank you!

      How handy it would be if we could only filter criticisms so easily. If we only had a real filter between our ears and brain.

      That’s why I believe it’s a skill–you hear it, decide whether it’s worth it, then accept or reject and forget it. It takes courage to carry on amidst criticism, considering it’s almost always just a distraction.

  3. Hi Ethan, so true that criticism is part of life, and that it often says more about the critic himself than any one else. Yes, you are right that you need to consider who is giving the criticism to help you decide whether it might hold a little helpful gem. Overall, I try not to dwell on negative criticism too much because one can’t please everyone. It seems wise to do your best, find souces of encouragement, and learn as you go. (Ps – Thanks for the visit and thoughtful comment on my blog.). Take care!

    1. Hi Carina,

      It’s indeed impossible to please everyone, even if you’re very likeable. Well, criticism is just part of the whole picture; shouldn’t be that bad, right? 🙂

      Thanks, Carina! Have an awesome day.

  4. Hi Ethan! Wow, this article is filled with lots of important ideas about life and criticism. I completely agree that one of the most important things we can do for our future is learn to react positively to it and use it for our own growth. As I’ve aged I have so learned this (unfortunately the hard way some of the time) but your suggestions are extremely helpful in the long run. Thank you for all your ideas and for the excellent reminders. ~Kathy

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for visiting my blog.

      Actually even after I learn things (from reading and hearing from other people), sometimes I still go through the hard way. Not that I want that, of course, but I guess experience is still the best teacher? It also pays to be vigilant.

      Glad you found this article helpful 🙂

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