How To Handle Criticism

Do you take negative feedback badly? Look at it differently and it could be an opportunity to grow to much! It can really hurt when someone finds fault with you or your performance. Whether it’s a friend letting you know your new hair colour doesn’t suit you or your manager sending a project back for reworking, it’s really important to remember that criticism is not necessarily an attack on you. ‘Constructive criticism can be a pathway to personal growth and improvement,’ says psychologist Elizabeth Neal. Some of us are super-sensitive to criticism and we can quickly dissolve into tears, anger or feelings of inadequacy. And while these reactions are fairly common, none of them are particularly productive. So how can we learn to handle criticism in a more positive way?

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Respond calmly Use a simple response to acknowledge that you have heard their opinion. Try, ‘Thank you for the feedback. I’ll take that on board,’ or ‘OK, I’ll consider that.’ But if you have an emotional, heartthumping reaction to what’s been said, your brain has gone into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Don’t respond while you’re in this primed state. ‘Take a few minutes out, feel your feet on the ground, and breathe slowly and deeply until you feel more calm,’ says wellness coach Trish Everett. ‘When you breathe in a relaxed way, your heart rate and stress response will come down so you can re-engage your rational brain before you respond.’

Don’t take it personally Whether the criticism is constructive or just rude, don’t take it as a personal afront. ‘It’s particularly important in a professional setting to be able to receive criticism or not-so-great feedback about your work without taking it personally,’ says Elizabeth. Create some distance between you and the issue by looking at the criticism from an objective standpoint. Look at the context and who is delivering the criticism. Is it coming from a senior person at work? If so, is it simply legitimate feedback about your performance? Or is it predictable negativity from a nit-picker? If this is the case, it’s probably less about you not being good enough and more about them – for example, a perfectionist will hold impossible-to-reach standards for themself, never mind others.

Know your insecurities Critical comments can sometimes activate a deeply-held negative belief we have about ourselves, like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not wanted’. By becoming familiar with the inner story you have about yourself, you’ll know that when you’re triggered by a critical comment, you might be overreacting because it has activated your painful core belief. ‘Your reaction to criticism depends on how sensitive that particular issue is for you,’ says Serena Bailey, a life coach specialising in boundary setting. Find the hidden gem Always look at what you can learn from the situation. ‘Even if it’s pushed your buttons, be brave and ask yourself if there’s anything in what they’re saying that you can take on board,’ suggests mindset coach Alyce Pilgrim.

‘Then, look at your reaction to see what this situation might be pushing you to learn. Ask yourself, “If this situation is happening to serve as an opportunity for my learning and growth, what would that learning be?” Perhaps it’s telling you that you need to develop more resilience or calmness in the face of others’ drama, or to learn to stand up for yourself or take responsibility for the behaviours you have that invite criticism from others.’ Think about it differently If you’re really sensitive and any sort of criticism – constructive or not – tends to push your buttons, renaming it as ‘feedback’ can help. This process is known as ‘reframing’ and puts a diferent slant on something, enabling you to see it in a more positive light.

‘The word criticism can have negative connotations, so by viewing it as feedback you change your own perception of it immediately,’ says Serena. ‘This will let you take a step back emotionally, which should give you the ability to choose how you respond.’ Go to the source Have a conversation with the person who has criticised you. ‘It’s important to address it with curiosity, not accusation,’ says Serena. ‘Try to get to the bottom of their criticism by having an adult conversation with them about it – one that’s respectful to you both. Try focus on what’s going on for you rather than laying blame, and state what you need. Say, “I’m feeling confused about what the issue might be here and would love it if we could talk more about it so I can understand where you’re coming from.”’ Strengthen your boundaries If you’re often brought down by someone else’s criticism, consider working on your self-esteem and boundaries with the help of a counsellor or psychologist. In the meantime, try reduce the amount of contact you have with someone who regularly criticises you so you have more control over the visit or interaction. ‘If it’s someone who you can’t avoid, try being more matter-of-fact with them, or, ideally, withdraw your need for their friendship or approval,’ suggests Elizabeth.


‘You’ll never be able to do that’; ‘she’s so much smarter than you’; ‘you’ll probably just make a mess of it’. At some stage, all of us have experienced the negative self-doubt dished out by our own ‘inner critic’. Career coach Deborah Hartung says that negative self-talk can be really damaging to your self-esteem, preventing you from reaching your goals. So how do you silence your inner critic? Here are Deborah’s five tips to ending the cycle of self-doubt:


Your inner critic is the enemy, so you need to recognise her and give her a name. Go ahead and name her after the meanest girl you knew growing up. Understand that she is not you, and call her out on her criticism.


Would you put up with a friend or family member saying negative things about you? If you wouldn’t tolerate that tone from someone you love, then why put up with it from yourself?


So you were outspoken in a meeting, does that really mean you might lose your job? Try to see things for what they really are before jumping to the worst-case scenario.


Find three positive things about you – your appearance, who you are as a person, or your achievements. Focus on these when your inner critic wants to break you down.


No matter how tough the day has been, try to find at least one thing you’re grateful for every night. It’s impossible to speak harshly to yourself when you’re feeling more joyful – and thankful – about your life.

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