7 Ways To Handle Criticism Like A True Expert


C’mon, around here, we know how to handle criticism like any expert!

No. You don’t. I’m sorry, but you rather suck at handling criticism.

The truth is, you and I don’t know how to handle an opinion that finds a fault in us. Just like most of those around us. Okay. Now that the hardest thing to say is over, why not just sit down and let it brew?

You face critics everywhere — home, work, school. They may not always say it in words that sting, or even say it in no words at all. But you understand what their body language and behavior towards you speaks. It breaks your rhythm, and upstages your peace. Why?

Your Body: How Does It Handle Criticism

I can tell what happens to me when I face a particularly acerbic criticism. It comes as a hard slap on my pride, confidence and self-esteem. Almost, it feels as if a 1,000 pound bull is hurtling towards me. Within an instant, my flight-fight-freeze response system jolts to action.

You may also call it my acute stress response. This is when my sympathetic nervous system goes into high alert. And it triggers the release of two chemicals — adrenaline and noradrenaline — by the two glands attached to our kidneys. Then starts a cascade of physical reactions.

Thereafter, what happens is this: the heart races, the face flushes, the pupils dilate, and the hands shake. Let me rush to add that this happens before I realize this is happening. It’s so fast.


The Fight or Flight Response (Source: Wikipedia)

Most of the times, this happens in subtle ways. But when the criticism is high on offensive, your flight-or-fight system snaps on full throttle. Like the raging hulk of a monster truck firing on all cylinders.

Here’s an interesting fact. When lab rats get threatened under controlled conditions, they do two things:

  1. Run to escape when there’s a way, or
  2. Rise to fight when there’re cornered.

Humans are not much different. In general, men respond to a perceived threat with aggression. While women respond with fleeing, seeking help, or trying to defuse the situation. But those are not water-tight rules for any gender.

Your Mind: How Does It Handle Criticism

When we’re presented with an idea we disagree with, the logic processing part of brain shuts down. So, we’re unable to show a reasonable amount of rational behavior after a criticism.

We talked of body reactions. Now, what happens to your mind when it senses a criticism as a threat to your self-esteem and self-worth?

  1. You shift focus to the negative side of yourself, and of the other person.
  2. Your self-respect gets dented, and a feeling of insecurity grips you.
  3. You lose respect for the other person, and start to fear or hate them.
  4. Your reaction towards them is anxiety or anger ridden, and you do things you later regret.
  5. You stonewall and helplessly absorb all the negative criticism in anguish.

In short, it makes you feel miserable.

One thing: Why do we remember a harsh criticism for a long time, but often forget a generous praise? Because our brains are more responsive to threats than rewards.

7 Ways To Handle Criticism Like An Expert

So, how do you flow out of those troubled waters like an expert navigator?

We all have to face criticisms and harsh words at one time or other. In such conditions, we often feel we’re unable to bear the situation in peace. Or tolerate the person any more. Even stay another second at that place.

Because the words appear to conflict with the way we see things, we’re often left to shout out: “That’s it. I’m done here.” If not to others, to ourselves in the least.


But instead of giving up in frustration, you could use one of the following seven approaches:

  1. Let Go Of Your Egoism. When McDonald’s trains its recruits, it tells them that the harsh words they’re going to hear from the customers are directed at their aprons, not their persons. So, let go of your egos. If you’re going to take everything personally, you’re going to remain offended for most of your life. Instead, understand that it was your position that got criticized, not you. This makes you trust yourself back again to handle the situation better.
  2. Show Your Positive Attitude. Take criticism as as a springboard for self-development. Show a positive attitude, suggests Simon Broomer, managing director of the career-planning firm CareerBalance. He says, “Stay positive, demonstrating that you take the feedback seriously and are keen to improve where you can.”
  3. Be Mindful Of Other Things. Do not let the criticism seep deep into your brain. Shift your attention from words and the tone that are muddling up your thinking, and start to note things and activities that are on around you. Practice being mindful of your immediate environment.
  4. Respond With Novel Solutions. Think of innovative pathways to deal with the situation. Try to uncover novel solutions once your clarity of thinking has returned. Do this to find out new ways to deal with the criticism — ask questions to clarify what they mean actually. It will give you new insights. Ask yourself, “Hey, is this criticism even valid?”
  5. Step Back To See The Big Pic. Step back, and try to see the big picture. (Yeah, I know, everybody doles out this advice. But it does work.) Try to re-think the whole situation while labeling your reactions: “I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m reacting too much.” And try to weigh out your options, “I can leave now and come back to this conversation later, when I’m calm.”
  6. Practice To Ignore Criticism. Imagine beforehand, and rehearse your best reactions. Practice works like magic. B. F. Skinner, father of Operant Conditioning, found in 1948 that behavior which is reinforced gets strengthened; and behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out. It’s difficult to listen to the message is beneath the tone of your boss or your spouse, but with practice it can come easy.
    √ A dirty but useful technique: Practice to ignore the criticism, and the criticizer. So, the next time you face criticism, you already know how to put up your “best response.”
  7. Leave, Think, Return. Bite the bullet, and excuse yourself from the situation. Don’t respond then and there. This is the most important rule of handling criticism like an expert: however hard it is to accept, do not react at that moment.Once you step away, you create a distance between the words and its speaker. When this distance is there, you feel safer and your mind opens up. Now, you could walk around a bit to process your emotions. Then proceed to use logic to consider what they said, and return to carry the talk further. This is the best advice I can give to anyone wanting to know how to handle criticism.

7 Ways To Handle Criticism:

  1. Let Go Of Your Egoism
  2. Show Your Positive Attitude
  3. Be Mindful Of Other Things
  4. Respond With Novel Solutions
  5. Step Back To See the Big Pic
  6. Practice To Ignore Criticism
  7. Leave, Think, Return

Remember, while you can’t control what others will say to you or about you, you sure can work towards controlling how you respond. The key is to train yourself to respond, not react.

If you're going to take everything personally, you're going to remain offended for most of your life. - Anon Click To Tweet

Final Words

Most of the criticisms are biased, we both know. And some people are critical by nature. Still, not all your criticizers are there to find faults with you. Some will be actually wishing you well, and wanting you to improve. You could learn from them and grow. Remember what Malcolm X said, “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success.”

And there will be times when you are the one to criticize. For such times, always keep in mind this advice by the psychologists: Target the behavior, not the person.

Related Book

John C. Maxwell says, “The price of leadership is criticism. No one pays much attention to the last-place finishers. But when you’re in front, everything gets noticed. So it is important to learn to handle criticism constructively.”

In his book, Leadership Gold, he gives us a four-step process that has helped when people criticize him as a leader: 1. Know yourself. 2. Change yourself. 3. Accept yourself. 4. Forget yourself.

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