Dealing With Criticism

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

It is someone's opinion; it should not matter, but it does. At some point in our lives, we will experience criticism. So, it is not a matter of if we will receive criticism; it is when. Our interpretation of the criticism may determine if there are lingering effects in the short and long term.


What are your behavioral patterns following criticism?

What are your thought patterns following criticism?

What are your emotional patterns following criticism?


As you consider your behavioral, thought, and emotional patterns, what are your self-defeating behaviors associated with being criticized?


When faced with criticism, it is pivotal to assess whether it is constructive criticism or destructive criticism. Understanding if the disapproval is constructive or destructive is helpful with our response.


Criticism, as described here, is binary, constructive, or destructive. This binary description in no way implies that criticism cannot be inconsequential. We are likely not to give much credence to criticism from overly critical people because they are predictable. However, the criticism can be valid and based on observation but expressed harshly.


For example, you were assigned a project at work. You worked tirelessly on the project and submitted it by the deadline. The feedback from your supervisor, "the project is rubbish, has several mistakes and you should be ashamed of yourself for turning in such poor work."


While the project has several mistakes, the feedback from your supervisor is unhelpful. The feedback highlights the errors but does not suggest corrective action. So, you are left confused and frustrated. The input racks your self-esteem and self-confidence.


On the other hand, constructive critique would still acknowledge mistakes in the project and highlight areas needing improvement. Therefore, the feedback would specify the errors (spelling, grammar, and punctuation), suggest proofreading before resubmitting the project, or use grammar editing software to identify unseen mistakes.


Indeed, clarifying whether the criticism is destructive or constructive is helpful. So, too, is an awareness of our automatic thoughts. These thoughts are the first to pop up in our minds in response to a trigger. Our automatic thoughts can affect our judgment positively or negatively by extension our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Either way, our emotions will help to determine our behaviors.


Depending on the first thought that comes to mind, we deal with the criticism passively, aggressively, or assertively.


A passive response to criticism is to remain quiet and pretend to be unbothered by the evaluation, but you feel resentful and find the criticism unfair. Stonewalling, you shut down without further participation in the discussion, without obtaining additional insights into what and how the offered analysis is appropriate.


In an aggressive response, you react defensively and redirect your frustration at the person making the critique. You make it personal, express feeling attacked, minimize your role, and finger-point at others for their lack of support.

You are responding to criticism assertively. Instead of reacting, you respectfully ask follow-up questions to gain insights into the critique. This way, you can stimulate an open discussion about the feedback to connect the analysis with the actual work. Demonstrating assertive behaviors does not mean; you accept the feedback without considering its merit. This is where you can decide if you:

  • Agree in part– parts of the critique may apply but not in the big picture.

  • Agree in probability – the feedback offered may impact the outcome but is not likely to happen.

  • Agree in principle – you can acknowledge the person's judgment without agreeing to the assessment.

Meichenbaum's cognitive behavior modification may help us change our self-talk. Since our automatic thoughts can influence our reactions, it stands to reason; we find effective ways to monitor our thoughts using cognitive restructuring.

  • Self-observation – this involves learning to monitor our behaviors. For example, when responding to assessments of our work, self-observations help us determine if our behaviors are defensive, assertive, passive, aggressive, or disrespectful.

  • Starting a new internal dialogue – this serves as a guidepost for our new behaviors. The internal conversation helps to adjust our new cognitive structures and not rely upon our unhelpful automatic thoughts. Over time our automatic thoughts should improve to become more solution-oriented.

  • Learning new skills - restructuring your automatic thoughts improves our self-monitoring and our internal dialogue. In this way, we cope better with our negative thoughts and adopt new coping skills to deal with adversity. Once using the new skill becomes second nature, there should be a reduction in your maladaptive reactions to criticism.

  • Personalization – This is probably easier said than done. Still, we must be mindful of our tendency to relate external events to ourselves when there is no basis for such a connection. The negative appraisal of our work is not a personal attack, though it may seem that way. Therefore, we should separate the critique of our work from our person.

Dealing positively with criticism is a skill you develop over time. Therefore, allow yourself the opportunity to make and learn from mistakes as you develop this most critical skill. Some criticism may be with or without merit; it is crucial to not view the complaint through "rose-colored glasses" and assume that positive feedback won't leave you feeling slighted about the quality of your work. Positive input makes it easier to accept criticism.


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