10 Most Helpful Ways To Handle Criticism Like A Pro

We often boast we can handle criticism like a pro when the critique is fair. But whenever we face a harsh remark, we react in ways we claimed we would never do.

Critics are an endemic breed these days, with the online variant being the most lethal. Trolls on the internet are skilled at wrecking your day with a single phrase or emoji.

Most criticism, at the very least, breaks your rhythm and interrupts your inner peace. Your critics may not use sharp words to express their disapproval. They may not use any words at all. But once you figure out what they mean, it spoils your mood for the day.

Rare is the person who knows how to critique us as fairly as we want. So, as soon as we hear someone making a nasty remark about us, our venomous reaction astounds even our closest friends, who never imagined we could do so.

Then, what’s the best way to deal with these naysayers? Should you avoid them for the fear that they’ll ruin your self-esteem? Or, should you be the guy in the arena who swears by Teddy Roosevelt’s words?

“It is not the critic who counts; … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, … and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly …”

– Theodore Roosevelt
How To Handle Criticism Like A Pro

10 Most Helpful Ways To Handle Criticism Like A Pro

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

There is a famous anecdote that when McDonald’s trains its recruits, it tells them that the harsh words they are going to hear from the customers are directed at their aprons, not their persons. So, when they receive criticism, there is no reason it can bruise their egos.

Use the same tactic. Imagine that any criticism you encounter is stopped by the pen in your shirt pocket (or anything else you choose). The criticism can’t get in, so it can’t hurt your ego.

You must understand that it was your position that got criticized, not you. This makes you trust yourself, and your skills, back again to handle the situation better.

If you’re going to take everything personally, you’re going to remain offended for most of your life.

2. Respond to Criticism With A Positive Attitude

They say that no good deed goes unpunished, and this is especially true of constructive criticism. It’s easy to become defensive when someone gives you negative feedback. Instead of dismissing them or lashing out at their comments, embrace them as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Take criticism as a springboard for self-development. Stay positive and show them your positive attitude. Let them leave with the impression that you can take constructive criticism seriously and make improvements.

3. Be Mindful Of Other Things

The urge to get others’ approval for our actions is innate, and it may become a major source of stress. Self-criticism, in particular, can cause us undue stress. People who have a higher self-criticism tendency feel more stressed after negative criticism.

Evidence from this study of adults who experienced traumatic events suggests that self-criticism and neuroticism are strongly associated with the presence of PTSD.

Stop seeking praise from everyone; you will wind up with a lot of criticism. Just live your life.

Mindfulness involves nonjudgmental awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Practicing mindfulness helps us respond to criticism with mindfulness, reducing stress and enhancing our ability to empathize with the critic.

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.

Learn how to be mindful of your immediate environment.

4. Respond With Novel Solutions

While critics can be brutal, responding to them head-on with a novel solution can work in your favor. The key is to think of criticism as an opportunity in disguise.

Even though some critics may attack you for reasons that have nothing to do with your work, use that as an opportunity to come up with an even better concept. Use their criticism as a springboard to create something new and better.

Every business depends on happy customers. And happy customers depend on strong relationships. However, you cannot build a strong relationship with them until you address their critical and negative feedback.

Think of innovative ways to deal with the situation. Perhaps, you know this story. The keys in Steve Jobs’ pocket badly scratched the prototype iPhone’s plastic screen. He wanted a solution, and toughened glass appeared as a mobile screen for the first time.

{Whenever you think of Steve Jobs, remember his four magic words of advice!]

After a criticism, try to come up with fresh solutions. Engage your higher brain’s clarity of thinking to find innovative ways to deal with the problem.

Simply ask them questions to clarify what they mean actually. It will give you new insights.

Then ask yourself, “Hey, how is this criticism valid and how can I use it to solve a problem?”

5. Step Back To See The Bigger Picture

Criticism hurts, and the sting is often worse when it comes from someone we care about. We may feel humiliated, angry, disappointed, or even guilty because of the criticism.

All of it happens when your primitive brain (amygdala and hypothalamus) interprets criticism as a threat. So, if you remove yourself from the potentially dangerous situation, you allow your higher brain (prefrontal cortex) time to engage with the situation rationally.

Okay, everyone seems to dole out this advice, but it works: Step back and try to see the bigger picture.

In fact, take a physical step back. Then try to rethink the whole situation from a distance, while clearly labeling your emotional reactions: “I’m hurt”, “I’m angry,” or “I’m reacting too much.”

Let your rational brain weigh out your options, “I can leave now and come back to this conversation later when I’m calm.

6. Practice Ignoring Criticism

Receiving criticism can be stressful, but learning how to respond can help. If you are on the receiving end of criticism, aim to respond politely. If you can’t do it respectfully, at the very least try to ignore it. When you ignore it, the criticism ceases to exist.

When it comes to responding to a real-life crisis, practicing anything beforehand works like magic. Keep yourself prepared by imagining and rehearsing your best responses to a person’s anticipated criticism.

B. F. Skinner, the father of Operant Conditioning, discovered in 1948 that behavior that is reinforced becomes stronger, while behavior that is not reinforced dies out.

It’s difficult to ignore a message that lies beneath the harsh tone of your boss or your spouse, but you must learn to ignore their delivery method. And that comes with practice.

√ A useful tip: Practice ignoring both the criticism and the criticizer. So, the next time you face a particular person who always finds faults with you, make it your second nature to imagine they are speaking to you through a mute button.

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 a pro. However hard it is to accept, do not react at that moment. You may even tell them:

“I am getting triggered by your words. I need to move away from the conversation right now.”

Once you step away, take your mind off the criticism and do something relaxing. You may go for a brief walk around or do one of these things that would reset/refresh your mind.

When your mind opens up, process your emotions. 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: 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.

In fact, the Stoics know so well how true is this that they built the principle of Dichotomy of Control around it.

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.

Let your mind wander deliberately.

We have all been there. You’re working on an important project, but your mind keeps drifting off. That was involuntary mind-wandering.

Daydreaming or mind-wandering is a common activity that we engage in on a daily basis. A large-scale study found that daydreaming is common in people’s daily lives, with participants daydreaming on average for 47% of their waking time (Gilbert & Killingsworth,2010-11-12).

It involves imagining something that is not real or present. Daydreaming helps you relax by taking your mind off the present stressful situation and improving your overall health.

10. Keep Your Cool

Most of us get upset when someone criticizes us. It is natural to want our opinion to be valued, so when someone disregards your opinion, it can feel like an affront.

However, regardless of how unpleasant the critique is, do not become enraged. Don’t respond to angry words with angry words.

Anger increases to uncontrollable levels as you spend more time with your critic. And people behave unpredictably when they are angry.

You may have heard of “crime of passion” (French: crime passionnel). It refers to a violent crime, especially homicide, committed in a fit of rage. In criminal law, it is a crime committed in the “heat of passion” in response to provocation, as opposed to one that was premeditated or deliberated.

So, don’t let yourself get provoked. And do not provoke them.

Learn how the Stoics control their anger.


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 criticism as a learning crutch. It can help you learn how others perceive you. It can also be a test of 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 scathing criticism, is 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 toward 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 on 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.

Most of the time, this occurs in subtle ways. But when the criticism is high on the offensive, your flight-or-fight system kicks into full throttle. You are now a 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 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

Criticism can be, well, upsetting, disheartening, and just plain mean. 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.”


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.

• • •

Why Regrets Are Good? And Why Is A Life of “No Regrets” Such A Bad Idea?

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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