10 Ways To Handle Criticism Like A Pro

You face critics both in the real world and the internet world. They may not always say it in words that directly sting, or even use no words at all, but you understand what they want to convey.

When people criticize us, we often feel they are not criticizing our genuine mistakes, but some personal aspect of ourselves. But when we criticize others, we are sure we are mostly criticizing their misplaced pride or inflated arrogance.

We often boast we can handle criticism like a pro when the criticism is fair. But as soon as we face a harsh remark, we react in a way we said we could never do. The truth is, many of us do not know how to handle an opinion that finds a fault in us. Criticism breaks our rhythm and shorts our peace.

10 Ways To Handle Criticism Like A Pro

Handle Criticism Like Expert

Instead of giving up in frustration in the face of criticism, you could use one of the following approaches to handle criticism like a pro:

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 a springboard for self-development. Show a positive attitude. Stay positive, demonstrating you can take the feedback seriously and can make improvements.

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 fresh 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 works.) 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. Practicing works like magic. B. F. Skinner, the father of Operant Conditioning, found in 1948 that behavior that gets reinforced gets strengthened; and behavior that 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 easily.

√ A little dirty but useful technique: Practice ignoring 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 the 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 use logic to consider what they said, and return to carry the talk further.

This is the best advice for anyone wanting to know how to handle criticism positively.

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.

8. Stay Impersonal

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.

9. Shift Your Focus

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.

10. Keep Your Cool

However much unpleasant is the criticism, bear it without any immediate reaction. Don’t respond then and there. This is the most important rule of handling criticism.

And step away from the situation. Once you step away, you create a distance between the words and the speaker. With this distance, you feel safer and your mind opens up. Now, you could use logic to consider what they said, and return to carry the talk further.

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

What does it mean to handle criticism positively?

The first lesson in handling criticism positively is to not take it personally and see every critical evaluation as a chance to grow. The path to your growth and success begins with criticism because critics can often see your blind spots.

We can always take positive feedback, and even negative feedback, as a signal that people are interested in helping us get better. It’s even worse when people notice you are doing a terrible job and do not say a word.

As the Stoic philosophers told us, we cannot control what others do or talk about us. What we can control is how we think about what they say. Then we can choose to discard it or internalize it, respond to it properly, learn from it, and apply it.

Always try to use the criticism as a learning crutch. It can help you learn how others perceive you. It can also be a test whether you can use it to improve yourself or your interpersonal skills. We can always learn from our mistakes. And in learning how to deal with the criticism for our mistakes, we can enrich our relationships with others.

Indeed, we can learn positive lessons from criticism if we are patient and ready to seek them out.

How does the body handle criticism?

The reason so many people can’t handle criticism, especially a scathing criticism, because it brings on their acute stress response system into immediate play.

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.

Flight or Fight Response
Pic: Original by Jvnkfood, converted to PNG by Pokéfan95, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 by fleeing, seeking help, or trying to defuse the situation. But those are not water-tight rules for any gender.

How does the mind handle criticism?

When we’re presented with an idea we disagree with, the logic processing part of the 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 generous praise? Because our brains are more responsive to threats than rewards.

Final Words

Most of the criticisms are biased, we know. And some people are critical by nature. Still, not all your critics are there to find faults with you. Some will actually wish you well and want 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.”

quote-Malcolm-X-no-critics-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.

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.

FAQs

  • How do you handle criticism at work?

    The key to handling criticism at work is to be proactive and respectful and not being reactive or resentful. When criticized at work, the primary aim should be to accept it as necessary feedback to performance. The person criticized should not close themselves off from the shortcomings it is pointing at.

    Many people see their work and their job as an extension of what they are. It is easy to take criticism of one’s work or performance personally, like a punch in the face or a dig in the ribs. Ideally, one should direct their criticism at your work, not at you. As a receiving person, always strive to isolate yourself from your work and remember work-related mistakes do not portray your character.

    Both encouraging and expressing criticism in ways that are constructive and helpful is something all leaders must learn to do.

    Silencing critics is a skill rather than a personality trait, and it takes time and practice. You don’t have to jump to wipe away the next criticism you receive. Wait and bide your time. You can decide not to show them your face unless you or they have changed for the better. Meanwhile, get down to improving yourself or distance yourself from that critic.

    If you receive disturbing feedback over emails that make you doubt yourself, arrange a follow-up email or phone call. Be polite but to the point. Adapt your approach to suit the person you are working with. Ask them to explain their grievance clearly. Let them know you are seeking feedback that will help you grow.

  • How do you not let criticism bother you?

    Never interpret a negative criticism about your work as a personal attack on you. If anyone else were at your place doing the same thing, they would have criticized that person’s work too. Remember, they criticize your work, not you personally.

    When someone offers criticism, it is important you do not allow their words to damage your self-esteem and self-confidence. Accept their opinion and try to find out its authenticity and merits without branding it as unfair or derogatory.

    There is constructive feedback, and then there is malicious faultfinding. Of course, criticism can be unfair when it has nothing to do with you or your job. It can also be unfair simply because it is wrong. Either way, criticism can point out a deficiency in your critic or in you.

    A criticism may be a critic’s disdain for your character, or a reflection of how the person sees you at that time. Take a step back and try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Ask a friend for their honest opinion. Let the criticism speak the truth to you, even if it seems to be a slug of bitterness. Also remember, criticizing may not always make sense.

    It is important to figure out who are the persons in your life who want the best for you. For them, criticism of you is often a dialogue with you. Your response to their criticism will have to vary according to their intentions. If they are in despair because you haven’t spent enough time with them, their criticism of you is actually a complaint of your neglect.

  • How do I stop being so sensitive to criticism?

    Constructive criticism is an effective tool to bring the latent issues into focus. Helpful criticism helps improve an aspect of your life. That is the true purpose of criticism. But if the person delivering the words uses them to belittle or insult you, then criticism is no longer constructive.

    Don’t let anyone off if they constantly yell at you, telling you are worthless. Tell them to either frame their criticism constructively, or to get lost. If you know what is the reason for the criticism, you can use it to make changes.

    The same holds for you: Don’t be that narcissistic snob yourself. Don’t come off as a jerk when instead you can offer them well-meaning, constructive, helpful criticism.

    A negative response to constructive criticism is something many of us do. But keep in mind, all criticism goes towards helping you improve, so they must ideally be constructive and supportive to evoke the intended result.

    There are some people who seem to handle criticism better than others. They seem to have a special ability to defuse a tense situation and disarm the critic. They have built a style of taking control of the situation instead of feeling helpless or incensed. Their way of handling a critic is calm, and they respond to the information with a steady and light hand.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.


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