11 tips for dealing with criticism

Dear Danielle,
I love reading your blog, and yours is a perfect voice that I would love to hear from regarding accepting criticism. How do you accept criticism (in a work environment) that feels negative? Or, do you have any tips on how to do so?
– N

Dear Criticized and Inquisitive…

Criticism sucks. If you’re being rightly criticized, your ego needs to shake it off like a wet dog and keep wagging its tail. And if you’re being unjustly ‘dissed’, you’ve still got to keep your ego limber so that you can objectively fight for your dignity. Either way, criticism is a call to be your classiest self.



  • Expand.


Sometimes criticism stings because we know the criticizer has a valid point. After you’ve done the inner wince, take a deep breath and get back in the ring. And look, just because you may need to clean up your act a bit, it doesn’t mean that you’re a full scale loser. We’re all just bozos on the same bus, as my dear friend Donna would say. So literally, take a deep expansive breath, with your fists unclenched. You sustain less injury when you do NOT brace for impact. I guess that’s why they call it “rolling with the punches.”


  • Admit that it stings.


“Ouch. That’s hard to hear. But I’m up for it.” Honesty when criticized is a great equalizer and a show of nobility and maturity.


  • Don’t react…yet.


Sometimes it’s best to just listen and simply say, “I’ve heard you. Let me process what you’ve said and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” So many of us are so adrift from our deep sensitivity that it takes some time to clearly know how we feel. So just take the time, it’s better than a half-cocked reaction that you’ll regret. And if you do say something you regret, or you don’t say what you think you should have…


  • Go back to it.


Feel free to bring it up again, even if it was a closed subject. “I thought more about what you said and I just wanted to let you know that….” It’s better to clear the air after the fact than it is to bury your feelings.


  • Be compassionate to your criticizer.


This can really soften the situation. Giving honest criticism is no fun for most people, and it’s often a case of, “This is going to hurt me as much as it might hurt you.”


  • Consider the source.


As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, to succeed is to “earn the appreciation of honest critics.” So firstly, you need to consider your source and their motivation. If you feel you’re being inaccurately criticized, then you need to say so in no uncertain terms. This is tricky because you may be perceived as being defensive. In this case, it’s good to refer to point #3. Collect your thoughts and give a rebuttal that shows your strengths {I’m a rock star because I…} and describes the challenges of the situation {I’ve been operating on a dime budget…}


  • Don’t take any shit.


Sometimes you have to play hardball. I once got a super crappy performance review from a manger at a retail job. I got on the phone right away and called the big cheese. “There’s no way I’m signing this review and there’s no way I’m quitting. I think she’s losing her marbles.” My knees were shaking but I knew I had to do it. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only person complaining about Crazy Manageress. She left shortly thereafter. And guess who got promoted?


  • Know your rights.


Sometimes there are legalities to consider. Your job may be on the line. If you lip off, and it leads to a dismissal, you want to know what your rights are … employers may need to formally warn you in writing, etc. You also have the right to be treated with respect no matter how severely you screw up. Criticism given without care is irresponsible.


  • Bring closure to it.


If you’re being asked to improve in some way, then ask for specific measurables … you can’t run a race if you don’t know where the finish line is. Be extra diligent about checking in on mutual satisfaction.


  • Say thank you.


Whether you’ve been rightly our wrongly critiqued, say thanks … either way, it’s a learning opportunity.


  • Lick your wounds.


Bruises need icepacks and hotbaths. Be sweet to yourself because tomorrow is another day and you’re up for the ride. Life never dishes out something you can’t handle.

A note on how to know when criticism is on the mark or way off base:


There were times in the past when I received inaccurate criticism, and I would start to cry. Crying in front of your boss is very rarely a good thing, I don’t care how progressive your organization is.

Because I had boundary issues {“sure, I’ll do four times the work and make sure you look like a superstar,”} I used to take on criticism without questioning it at all. I thought that if their feelings were hurt or they saw room for improvement, then surely they must be right and I must be wrong. My tears were an indication of confusion, and for me, confusion is an indication that something is very definitely untrue.

When I’m being rightfully called on my stuff, I actually have the opposite reaction … I feel a strange sense of relief and communion. It’s usually a, “Eeeshk, I know, I suck at that. I’m a total loogan when it comes to that. Sorry. Thanks. I’m so glad you get me.” Of course, I’m just as often defensive as I am classy — just another bozo on the bus.

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