Receiving criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, isn’t the most comfortable experience for many of us. In fact, a common reaction to it is to put up a wall or feel any of the following: defensive, angry, hurt, or anxious.
I’ve felt all of those things at one point or another throughout my life when I had to deal with criticism, both personally and professionally. But over the years, I realized that I could choose to go on taking criticism in a negative light…or make it work for me.
If handling criticism is an area you struggle with, I’m here to help. Let’s take a look at these nine things folks who are good at handling criticism do and learn a thing or two from them!
1) Listening with an open mind
When someone is good at handling criticism, the first thing you’ll notice is their impressive listening skills.
Now, let’s get something straight: listening is not the same as hearing. When they’re being criticized, they don’t just stand there, hearing the words but actually seeing them as a personal attack.
This used to be me. Whenever I’d get feedback from someone, even if it was delivered gently, my mind would immediately go, “But I worked really hard on this!” or “That’s not my fault…”
So, because of this defensiveness and refusal to REALLY listen, I was missing the message – and the opportunity to learn from it.
These days, I’m all about having an open mind. When someone’s willing to correct my behavior or way of thinking, I see it for what it is: a gesture of goodwill. So, that helps me do this next thing…
2) Not taking it personally
Consider these statements:
- “That’s just the way I am, and if you don’t like it, that’s not my problem.”
- “Why are you calling out just me? What about [insert name]? They did the same thing!”
- “Yeah, yeah, I know that already…” (*rolling eyes)
- “Hey, I’m doing my best here!”
Have you ever said or thought these in the past? I have, and I’m not proud of it. These are proof that I used to see criticism as a personal attack, and I was fighting it, even if only in my mind.
Those who are adept at handling criticism tend not to take it personally. This doesn’t mean they’re indifferent or uninvolved. It simply means they understand that the criticism is directed at their actions or behavior, not their person.
There’s a certain healthy level of detachment there – they separate themselves from the issue, understanding that we all make mistakes and that it’s a normal part of life. This is what allows them to handle criticism with more grace and composure.
And if I might add, with no grudges.
3) Taking time to respond
Now, not taking it personally is definitely the route to take when receiving criticism. But sometimes our instincts do kick in, which is why we have those knee-jerk reactions of feeling defensive/angry/hurt. We’re only human, after all.
One thing people who handle criticism well do is pause. They take their time to respond. This allows them to process and understand what’s been said. And to pivot from heated emotions to a more rational, open-minded stance.
As someone who has sometimes reacted too quickly to criticism in the past, I can vouch for the value of taking a pause. It has certainly helped me avoid saying things I would later regret.
4) Asking questions
When you see criticism as a way to help you improve, it’s easier to do this next thing – asking questions to clarify or get more info.
People who do this can handle criticism well. They’re seeing it through the lens of self-improvement. They want clarity and direction because they know that the more they understand the issue, the better they can address it.
So they ask more in-depth questions, such as:
- Why am I receiving this feedback?
- Could you give me more specific details?
- How do you suggest I handle this better in the future?
- Is there anything else I might be overlooking?
Questions like these show that they are mature, professional, and invested in personal growth.
5) Reflecting on the criticism
So, we’ve talked about what people who handle feedback well do in the moment they’re receiving it. But what do they do afterwards? Do they sit in a corner and go into self-pity mode, or do they reflect on what’s been said?
One clear sign that someone is a pro at handling criticism is their ability to internalize the feedback and reflect on it. Self-examination is the order of the day, and they’re all for it because they know it’s the only way to grow.
This leads us to the next point…
6) Learning from it
This is the bottom line: Constructive criticism is meant to help us learn and grow. Be the best version of ourselves.
And that’s how people who handle criticism best see it. After reflecting on the critique, they take active steps to change their behavior accordingly.
If they’ve been told to be more communicative at work, they make a conscious effort to reach out and do that.
If they’ve been told they’re an inattentive partner, they find ways to tune in to their partner better, like showing more interest, remembering the little things, or putting away their phone while with their partner.
It’s not always easy to view criticism as an opportunity for growth, especially when it feels harsh or unjustified. But remember, no one is perfect, and we all have areas in our life where we can improve.
7) Practicing self-compassion
I’ll repeat – no one is perfect. That’s something to remember when you’re given feedback. And I must emphasize, think about it in a matter-of-fact way, not defensively.
You see, just as it’s important to acknowledge our mistakes, it’s also important to be kind to ourselves.
I used to berate myself endlessly whenever I was given notes or reminders at work. I would hate myself for doing this or that, for not measuring up, for not being excellent and all that.
Does that sound familiar to you? Then, it might be time to change the narrative you tell yourself.
You are not a failure – you’re simply a work in progress. And just like any WIPs, you have room to grow and learn.
So treat yourself with the same kindness you’d extend to a friend. The next section should help you do that…
8) Staying positive
Despite our best intentions, receiving criticism really can feel awful. Sometimes, even when we approach it with the right attitude, there’s that tiny, niggling voice in the background that tells us we’re inadequate or incompetent.
That’s why it’s crucial to stay positive. Again, what might help here is that level of detachment I talked about earlier. It’s what will help you stop criticism from defining you or affecting your self-esteem.
Keeping a positive attitude doesn’t mean ignoring criticism or pretending everything is fine. It means acknowledging the criticism, but also not letting it overshadow all the good things.
This mindset is especially important if you’re an overthinker like me. The old me, whenever I’d receive feedback, would get stuck in a cycle of overanalyzing, feeling inadequate, and concocting worst-case scenarios.
But once I got really conscious and intentional about focusing on the positive, I could interrupt my negative thoughts better and dissociate the feedback from my sense of self.
And over time, with consistent practice, I even learned to appreciate constructive criticism for the kindness it is.
9) Showing gratitude
Yes, you read that right – people who make criticism work for them actually thank their critics.
It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a very enlightened way to respond. It shows a high level of self-awareness and a genuine desire for self-improvement.
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t easy to get to that point of feeling grateful for feedback. But once I did, it created a shift in my perspective, big time.
No longer do I feel attacked or looked down on; in fact, I actually feel more supported. I understand that the person giving me a critique wants to help me improve, which can only mean one thing – they care about me and see my potential!
Because when you think about it, do we bother giving feedback to people we don’t care about? Or those we feel aren’t capable of changing?
So, that thought makes me appreciate whatever constructive feedback I get!
Now, before I leave you, I want to emphasize one thing: not all feedback is worth taking to heart. Just as there are people who give feedback to help you grow, there are also those who simply mean to tear you down.
Or sometimes, the feedback given isn’t helpful or actionable – it might be too vague or irrelevant.
Whichever it is, it’s okay to be selective about the ones you take on board. And to balance it with your own self-assessment and personal judgment.
Remember, the aim of feedback is to help you grow and improve. At the end of the day, you get to decide how to use the feedback you receive. Hopefully, you’ll use it for good!