How to take criticism constructively

Let’s admit it: even if we know constructive criticism is good for us, it can be a challenge to accept it. Hearing that we’re doing something wrong, and then fixing it, is a next-level personality challenge. What we do know, however, is that it’s worth it to listen, because very often other people see our behavior better than we do. Accepting constructive criticism is also the key to getting promoted at work, because feedback is a crucial part of rising within a company.

Here’s how to accept constructive criticism gracefully, and improve your life in the process.

Have an open mind

Our egos are not our friends. Ego is the force that pushes other people away to protect ourselves, and it throws a tantrum any time someone suggests we’re flawed. The first key to accepting constructive criticism is to dock your ego.

It’ll be difficult to accept what your manager is telling you if you don’t hear him or her out. Listen, take it in, and process what’s being said instead of getting defensive.

Your physical body will show signs of panic if you feel threatened, even by advice or criticism. To combat that, keep your breathing steady and try to stop fidgeting.

Constructive criticism could be what you need to move in the right direction— by isolating areas to work on, you can focus on bettering your performance next time around.

Resist the temptation to show your frustration

Getting snotty about criticism, or lashing out, is a death sentence for your career. You’ll be labeled as volatile and oversensitive, and even if you’re talented you’ll have to be twice as talented to make up for the label of having a bad attitude.

Nicole Lindsay writes about this in an article for The Muse.

“At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You will have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm,” Lindsay writes.

Don’t take it personally

It’s also important to remember this: criticism, constructive or not, is not really a judgment. It’s information. Appreciate it as information and, to fully understand it, separate yourself from your work.

Jacqueline Whitmore writes about how you shouldn’t “take it personally” in an Entrepreneur article.

“Constructive criticism is not an insult or a reflection on who you are as a person. It’s merely someone’s observations about his or her interactions with you in a business context. Whether the person is well-meaning or just being mean-spirited doesn’t really matter. Respond respectfully as though your critic’s intentions are good, and come from a place of gratitude for the information. After all, you’re smart and savvy enough to determine how valid the feedback is and what to do about it,” Whitmore writes.

Assume this posture

Don’t show that you’re closed off, even if you would rather be having any other conversation at work at the moment.

An Inc. article illustrates how you should position yourself.

“When offered constructive criticism, pay special attention to your body language. Assume a ‘neutral’ posture; keep your arms on the table, in your lap, or a combination of both. Maintain eye contact, and be aware of your shifting weight. Avoid crossing your arms, tightening your fists, pursing your lips, or rolling your eyes,” the article says.

Say these words

Here’s a template for the next time you get criticism.

Alison Green writes about being “open/nondefensive” in an article for U.S. News & World Report.

She writes this an example, “I’m glad you’re telling me this. I’ve been letting some deadlines on this project slide because I had thought that projects x and z were higher priorities and was more focused there. But am I looking at this wrong?”

But if you don’t agree with what’s being said, Green provides more advice.

She adds, “If you genuinely disagree with the criticism you’re hearing, and you’re sure it’s not just your ego getting in the way, it’s OK to say that. But it’s all in how you say it and what tone you use. For instance, you might say: ‘I hadn’t realized it was coming across that way, so I’m glad to know. From my perspective, it seems like _____.’ (Fill in the blank with whatever your perspective is.)”

You will survive hearing where you went wrong at work— just use constructive criticism to fuel your forward progress.

Free Book Preview: Coach ’Em Way Up

How to take criticism constructively

There inevitably comes a time when a manager has to give negative feedback. It’s inevitable. No employee is perfect. Everyone can use a little improvement. The tricky part is providing feedback in a way that doesn’t send the employee spiraling into a pit of despair and self-loathing. That’s one way to get on the bad boss list.

When it’s time for the annual review, or even a much-needed discussion with an underperforming employee, don’t hide from the impending uncomfortable situation. Negative feedback can be dished out in a way that doesn’t damage egos, or send employees packing. In fact, when given in a positive way, negative feedback can be very motivational and inspiring.

An article from Psychology Today explains how to give good constructive feedback using the sandwich method. Start with a compliment, gently add what needs improvement, then top it off with another compliment.While this method can be applied to giving feedback almost every time, here are some additional tips for giving negative feedback in a positive way:

1. Discuss the objective issue, not the person. Don’t make statements that personally call out the employee like, “you should,” “you didn’t,” or “your skills.” Instead, discuss the issue by saying, “customers can’t get what they need,” or “this isn’t clear.”

2. Talk about what’s going well. It’s easy to get wrapped up in everything wrong with a situation. However, employees can’t replace the void of knowing what not to do without knowing what to do. Compliment the employee on her strengths. Encourage the employee to do more of what she already knows how to do well. Then, when you give the negative feedback, the employee won’t feel like everything she does is wrong.

3. Show the numbers. A big-headed employee might have a tough time believing he isn’t getting the job done. Or, perhaps the employee needs a visual to understand the concern. A visual performance report can help demonstrate issues with data to help everyone understand the big picture goals.

4. Get on the employee’s level. One of the worst things that can lead a review conversation awry is the employee feeling at a lower level of intelligence or skill. Don’t talk down to the employee, as if he is less intelligent because his performance is suffering. Try to find the source of the problem. Relate to the employee by sharing a personal story about a similar problem, and explain how it was resolved.

5. Reaffirm faith in the employee. Express the importance of the employee’s valuable skills, and assure him he will improve. Remind him he was hired for a reason. Feedback will only make him stronger, as long as he channels it into accomplishing his goals.

While these are immediate methods for giving negative feedback, planning ahead will help. A 2013 World at Work study found 64 percent of employers believe recognition has an extremely positive effect on employee engagement and retention.

Throughout the year, acknowledge anniversaries or any significant personal achievements employees make from the start. A company can do this regularly, giving out awards to keep morale on a high level in general. Then, employees will be less averse to negative feedback because it has been balanced by regular positive feedback.

Overall, when giving negative feedback, have a positive attitude and demeanor. Don’t let emotions take over. Supporting the team by giving feedback is necessary, and directly affects the success of the company. Plus, employees have an opportunity to learn their strengths and areas of opportunity. So pull the reports, relax, go forth and encourage the team!

How to take criticism constructively

Parents and teachers spend an enormous amount of time thinking about how to frame feedback for kids. We’re torn between the desire to teach and the urge to protect children from pain. In an attempt to make feedback palatable, we dress it up in pretty outfits, sand down its sharp corners and construct feedback sandwiches of critical meat between slices of fluffy and comforting praise.

We all face criticism, both constructive and destructive, but how we deal with that criticism determines whether we persevere and learn from experience or crumple under the weight of our own self-loathing and despair. Receiving feedback is a skill, and like most skills, it requires practice, and a willingness to change and improve. Most children get plenty of practice. Ironically, adults need to help them make that practice count — by giving them feedback on how they handle criticism.

In the best guide I’ve found to learning this skill, “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well,” Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project explain that feedback — both positive and negative — is challenging because it hits us in the vulnerable soft spot between our desire to grow and our deep need to be accepted and respected. The key to hearing feedback well, they argue, is to adopt what the psychologist and author Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset.” People with a growth mindset believe that effort and challenge make us better, stronger and smarter, while those with a “fixed mindset” believe that our inherent assets are static no matter what we do.

Not all of the criticism kids face is constructive. Some of it is born out of ulterior motives or dark intentions, but the good news is that a growth mindset can protect kids from this sort of feedback as well. As Mr. Stone and Ms. Heen explain:

“If you’ve got a growth identity, it’s easier to understand the mixed data. It’s information, not damnation. Instead of hearing ‘Last week I was competent; this week a screwup,’ you hear ‘Last week I was on top of things; this week I’m dropping balls.’ It’s not who you are, but something you did. Growth identity folks aren’t thrown by the contradiction and are motivated to seek accurate information in order to adjust and learn.”

A growth mindset is the best gift we can give our children. Thus armed, they can be brave in the face of constructive criticism, believing it can make them better, stronger and smarter. They won’t need us to dress it up or sand it down because, given a growth mindset, kids can handle the truth. When the worst happens, and malicious criticism comes their way, kids with a growth mindset will able to focus on their own effort and progress rather than the expectations and limitations other people place on them.

It’s possible to parent and teach for a growth mindset. I consulted with Andrea Nair, a therapist and former teacher, and Michele Borba, a psychologist and author, on how we can help our children handle feedback with resilience and make it work for them.

Don’t hesitate to offer feedback. Many kids have trouble hearing feedback because they don’t experience it often enough. While it’s natural to want to protect children from pain, when we protect our kids from criticism or focus excessively on praise, we push them toward a fixed mindset.

Back off on constant praise. A well-publicized study from earlier this year reported that effusive praise may encourage a fixed mindset and consequently discourage children from taking on new challenges. Worse, it can deflate, rather than shore up, self-esteem in some kids. Children need to get used to hearing constructive feedback, and it’s our job to teach them how.

Watch your body language. Nonverbal communication is part of delivering feedback, and can help kids hear it more effectively. Uncross your arms, get down on kids’ level, smile and keep your face relaxed. If you are tense when you hand out criticism, they will be tense when they receive it.

Switch up your pronouns. Instead of framing feedback in terms of “I’m so proud of you,” turn the statement on its head and anchor feedback in the pronoun “you,” as in, “You should be proud of yourself,” or “What did you feel best about?” or “What one thing would you like to change?”

Empower for change. Cede control and hand power over to the child and help her adjust her efforts to use feedback effectively. Ask, “Is that how you’d hoped this would turn out?” or “What would you do differently the next time?” Help her see the way forward with comments like, “How do you think you could take this project from good to awesome?”

Formulate new goals after a big failure. Once she’s picked herself up and dusted herself off, she may need help starting all over again. Help her pick some new goals based on what she’s learned from the situation at hand. Her goals should be her own, devised by her, based on her experience and hope, and most importantly, they should be measurable and achievable so she can keep momentum moving forward.

Criticism comes to everyone, eventually. It’s inescapable, and more relevantly, it’s a necessary part of growing up. As we can’t protect children from it, the best we can do is ensure that they are equipped with the emotional fortitude and strength of character they will need to forge ahead, stronger, smarter and braver for the experience.

Prime Women asked me to write about this subject, as it is something that has been asked by readers: How should you take constructive criticism? How to take criticism constructively

It is one of those interesting topics that I thought many would have a view on. They do! I put it out on social media channels to see what others think. Despite the specific question “How do you take constructive criticism?” the plethora of answers nearly all focused on the giving rather than the receiving – and generally it was around, “…you shouldn’t give criticism, but give positive feedback.”

Now, I have an embarrassing story at this point – I posted this question on both Twitter and LinkedIn and most of the replies were on LinkedIn. I have been dilatory in writing this blog How to take criticism constructivelyand this evening discovered that LinkedIn’s changed settings means you can now only see a month’s activity! So to all those who shared really excellent insights, my apologies not to repeat them here.

Thank goodness for Twitter – and I was able to rescue Simon Hill’s comment (thanks, Simon) where he points out that it is harder to give constructive criticism than to take it. As a CEO of a large organisation, he would know.

6 steps to taking constructive criticism

Despite the different views on this subject, as a leader I think it is an absolute basic requirement to take criticism constructively. It is something I have steeled myself to do over a long career – my natural instinct was to become defensive or to ignore the comments. Yet this feedback is one of the most useful gifts any leader will ever receive.

Each year we hold a formal business planning day with all our team. I always get an external facilitator to do this – we are a small business and it is easy to become ‘group think’ or for me, as the boss, to quash feedback and innovation. I hope our business generally has a culture of giving honest feedback, but I think you need also to create specific occasions and give permission to everyone to give constructive criticism.

I remember one year my team had given me a lot of this constructive criticism and at the end, a colleague said, “…not sure if we’ll ever be able to work anywhere else, would a boss take this amount of feedback?”

I think this is one of the hardest things to do as a leader – it has certainly been one of the toughest things I have had to learn. So what have been my own steps in this learning?

1. Take a deep breath

I used to be quick to anger – on all sorts of things. I was a very young manager and a rare female, and I think I had an exalted view of my position when I was younger. I soon realised that my heated responses were making me look foolish. So often I responded to things I didn’t know or understand and simply was wrong. I changed my response to anything I didn’t like or felt critical about. I took a deep breath and said nothing.

2. Be interested and curious

The next step was to turn around my personal response and become interested in what I was hearing. This made it a more factual discussion than personal. By asking questions you also really understand what someone is telling you – this is important because, bearing in mind all the comments about it being harder to give criticism than receive it, the person telling you may feel nervous and not immediately get their story straight.

3. Really listen

Whether you agree or not with what you are being told, there is always something to listen to – even if it is to understand the other person’s perspective. Listen, ask questions and think about how things are looking from other people’s viewpoints. If it’s not clear, clarify.

4. Play back the key points

It’s worth recapping the points that have been made to you and checking with examples, what the points are. If you aren’t used to taking feedback, you may be slightly numb initially and not fully take in what has been said!

5. Thank the person

However hard the process, as Simon Hill says – it is probably harder to give constructive criticism than to take it. Feel for the person giving it to you. Rarely is this a spiteful or aggressive issue – more that someone wants things to improve. For everyone. Thank the person giving the feedback, it isn’t easy.

6. Agree to a follow-up meeting

You may want time to think about your own response to the feedback, or discuss ways to change your behaviour at the time. Either way, it’s useful to agree to a time for a follow up discussion and get further feedback on how you are changing and if it is improving matters.

That is my six-point action plan for taking constructive criticism – anything else you would add here or disagree with?

And thanks again to everyone who offered their views on this – all helpful.

If you are interested in more personal/professional development tips, read Are You the Oldest in the Room, Even When You’re Not?

How to take criticism constructively

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

How to take criticism constructively

It’s no secret that most people don’t like having their flaws pointed out to them. But the fact is that other people often see our shortcomings more clearly than we do.

And just as sharks need to keep swimming in order to breathe, entrepreneurs need to keep learning and developing both personally and professionally to improve their performance and grow their businesses. That makes feedback, especially the negative kind, an invaluable gift, provided you’re able to accept it gracefully.

Here are five tips to help you make the most of your colleagues’ and clients’ feedback:

1. Don’t take it personally.

Constructive criticism is not an insult or a reflection on who you are as a person. It’s merely someone’s observations about his or her interactions with you in a business context. Whether the person is well-meaning or just being mean-spirited doesn’t really matter. Respond respectfully as though your critic’s intentions are good, and come from a place of gratitude for the information.

After all, you’re smart and savvy enough to determine how valid the feedback is and what to do about it.

2. Ask for specifics.

Many people are just as uncomfortable giving constructive feedback as they are getting it and therefore dance around the issue, trying to be as gentle and polite as possible. That’s fine for easing into the process of sharing personal opinions, but you’ll probably need more details to get to the heart of the matter. Demonstrate with your words and manner that you’re sincerely open to feedback, and people will tell you what you really need to know.

3. Solicit help.

A sure-fire way to show that you’re seriously interested in people’s feedback is to ask their advice about how you can improve your performance. Say something like, “I’ve been thinking about this myself, and really want to do better in the future. Do you have any suggestions for how I can improve?” When you candidly acknowledge your deficiencies and solicit advice, you show your strength, and people may well respond with helpful counsel.

4. Share your progress.

If you respect the person who gave you the constructive criticism, you’ll take the advice seriously and actively work on improving your performance in that area. Share your progress with the individual who shared the feedback and show that you heard his or her concerns and are willing to actively take steps to improve your performance. You can prove this, first, by doing better at whatever was critiqued, but also by updating people on what you’ve done in response to their feedback.

5. Be a feedback mirror.

When someone shares constructive criticism with you, this individual makes himself or herself vulnerable to criticism. That may be why people are so rarely honest about what they really think of others. People know they have their own faults, but may feel exposed having them pointed out. Offer yourself as a partner in self-improvement by telling others that their feedback is valuable and that you are happy to return the favor.

Nobody’s perfect. From time to time, we all need others to let us know when we aren’t measuring up to our potential. So, constructive criticism, negative feedback or whatever you want to call it is essential to everyone’s self-development. Be an agent of change in this area, and you’ll be rewarded with useful information and better business relations.

How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation

By Leo Babauta

Every day, I get emails and comments that are amazingly positive and encouraging, and in truth these messages are the very thing that sustains my blogging. However, I also get negative comments now and then: criticism of my writing, and not nice criticism either.

How do you deal with criticism? I think the first reaction for most of us is to defend ourselves, or worse yet to lash back.

And yet, while criticism can be taken as hurtful and demoralizing, it can also be viewed in a positive way: it is honesty, and it can spur us to do better. It’s an opportunity to improve.

Recently, I ran an “Ask the Readers” post asking for suggestions for improvement, after receiving a few critical emails and comments. I responded to one of the critics with a “thank you” and asked him to comment in the Ask the Readers thread.

The reader emailed me back, and here was his response:

After sending my email, I felt I might have been a little harsh. But now, after reading your response, I think you would have the perfect qualities to write an article or two about taking criticism with grace and appreciation .

I really liked that thought, so here is that post he suggested: how to take criticism with grace and appreciation.

Stop Your First Reaction
If your first reaction is to lash back at the person giving the criticism, or to become defensive, take a minute before reacting at all. Take a deep breath, and give it a little thought.

Personally, I tend to get a little angry when I’m criticized. But I have also taught myself not to react right away. For example, I’ll let a critical email sit in my inbox for at least an hour before replying. Or I’ll walk away from someone instead of saying something I’ll regret later.

That cooling off time allows me to give it a little more thought beyond my initial reaction. It allows logic to step in, past the emotion. I don’t have anything against emotion, but when it’s a negative emotion, sometimes it can cause more harm than good. So I let my emotions run their course, and then respond when I’m calmer.

Turn a Negative Into a Positive
One of the keys to my success in anything I do is my ability to find positive things in things that most people see as a negative. Sickness forces me to stop my exercise program? That’s a welcome rest. Tired of my job? That’s a time to rediscover what’s important and to look for a better job. Supertyphoon ruined all my possessions? This allowed me to realize that my stuff wasn’t important, and to be thankful that my loved ones were still alive and safe.

You can do the same thing with criticism: find the positive in it. Sure, it may be rude and mean, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of gold: honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement.

For example, this criticism: “You write about the same things over and over and your posts are boring and stale.”

Can be read: “I need to increase the variety of my posts and find new ways of looking at old things.”

That’s just one example of course — you can do that with just about any criticism. Sometimes it’s just someone having a bad day, but many times there’s at least a grain of truth in the criticism.

See it as an opportunity to improve — and without that constant improvement, we are just sitting still. Improvement is a good thing.

Thank the Critic
Even if someone is harsh and rude, thank them. They might have been having a bad day, or maybe they’re just a negative person in general. But even so, your attitude of gratitude will probably catch them off-guard.

And you know what? My habit of thanking my critics has actually won a few of them over. They became friends of mine, and eventually a couple of them became some of my biggest proponents. All because of a simple act of saying thank you for the criticism. It’s unexpected, and often appreciated.

And even if the critic doesn’t take your “thank you” in a good way, it’s still good to do — for yourself. It’s a way of reminding yourself that the criticism was a good thing for you, a way of keeping yourself humble.

Learn from the Criticism
After seeing criticism in a positive light, and thanking the critic, don’t just move on and go back to business as usual. Actually try to improve.

That’s a difficult concept for some people, because they often think that they’re right no matter what. But no one is always right. You, in fact, may be wrong, and the critic may be right. So see if there’s something you can change to make yourself better.

And then make that change. Actually strive to do better.

When I received criticism that my posts weren’t as good as they could be, I strove to improve. I tried hard to write better posts. Now, did I actually accomplish that? That’s a matter of opinion — some will say no, while others seemed to enjoy the posts. Personally, I’ve been rather proud of some of these posts, and I’m glad I made the extra effort.

Be the Better Person
Too many times we take criticism as a personal attack, as an insult to who we are. But it’s not. Well, perhaps sometimes it is, but we don’t have to take it that way. Take it as a criticism of your actions, not your person. If you do that, you can detach yourself from the criticism emotionally and see what should be done.

But the way that many of us handle the criticisms that we see as personal attacks is by attacking back. “I’m not going to let someone talk to me that way.” Especially if this criticism is made in public, such as in the comments of a blog. You have to defend yourself, and attack the attacker … right?

Wrong. By attacking the attacker, you are stooping to his level. Even if the person was mean or rude, you don’t have to be the same way. You don’t have to commit the same sins.

Be the better person.

If you can rise above the petty insults and attacks, and respond in a calm and positive manner to the meat of the criticism, you will be the better person. And guess what? There are two amazing benefits of this:

  1. Others will admire you and think better of you for rising above the attack. Especially if you remain positive and actually take the criticism well. This has happened to me, when people actually complimented me on how I handled attacking comments.
  2. You will feel better about yourself. By participating in personal attacks, we dirty ourselves. But if we can stay above that level, we feel good about who we are. And that’s the most important benefit of all.

How do you stay above the attacks and be the better person? By removing yourself from the criticism, and looking only at the actions criticized. By seeing the positive in the criticism, and trying to improve. By thanking the critic. And by responding with a positive attitude.

A quick example: Someone criticizes one of my posts by saying, “You’re an idiot. I don’t understand what x has to do with y.”

My typical response will be to first, ignore the first sentence. And second, to say something like, “Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify that. I don’t think I made it as clear as I should have. What x has to do with y is … blah blah. Thanks for the great question!”

And by ignoring the insult, taking it as an opportunity to clarify, thanking the critic, using the opportunity to explain my point further, and staying positive, I have accepted the criticism with grace and appreciation. And in doing so, remained the better person, and felt great about myself.

How to take criticism constructively

If you’d ask me a year ago how well I took criticism, I would probably just have nervously laughed and admitted I would rather cut lemons with paper cuts than have my work critiqued. If this sounds like you, don’t be alarmed, you’re not alone. Many people our age struggle with criticism, especially in the workplace. I know I did. However, I discovered that while workplace criticism may seem like confrontation, most of the time it’s your peers trying to help you improve, not drag you down. This is not always easy, and we must admit to ourselves that we can be too sensitive when it comes to our own work. Though it’s natural to be defensive in the face of criticism, it holds us back from improving our work and becoming better contributors.

Growing up in Minnesota, I became an expert at avoiding criticism with a series of well-practiced passive aggressive defenses. Unfortunately, I discovered my well-rehearsed defenses were not helping me in school or at work. After trial and error, I came to understand that taking criticism productively means realizing the critiquer is not criticizing you as a human being, just the work you create. This was difficult to separate for me; here’s some real examples of what used to go through my mind when I received criticism:

“Oh gosh, she doesn’t like my work, she probably doesn’t like me anymore.”

“He didn’t like my project, he probably is going to talk badly about me now.”

“She told me to do something more creative, does she think I’m not smart?”

“Well that’s it – my career is over! I published a post with a typo in it and my boss told me to fix, I’ll be fired for sure.”

After looking at these thoughts, it is clear I thought my co-workers giving me feedback about my work was synonymous with their thoughts of me as a person, which is not true. Our initial feelings and sensitivity can be irrational. The difficult part is recognizing it and moving forward. We must realize that when we are hypersensitive, we may miss some great advice from those more experienced than ourselves. We need to understand that critiques are some of the most helpful pieces of information for our personal and professional growth and when we choose to take it as an attack rather than learn from it, the only people we hurt are ourselves.

Constructive Criticism

The first step in taking criticism constructively is to determine if the criticism is indeed constructive, or if it just unhelpful. So how can you tell the difference? One way to tell if the criticism is constructive is to see if the person critiquing is willing to give you concrete examples of how to improve your work. If the critiquer is unwilling or unable to give you concrete examples or further expand upon their comments, this criticism is most likely unhelpful.

Conversely, the critiquer may work closely with you and be willing to elaborate on their feedback. If this is the case, ask them if they have done anything similar in the past, how they would tackle this particular project, or tell you specifically what areas could be stronger. Since this person works closely with you, they will most likely be familiar with the project you’re working on and your process for completing work and will be more insightful in their constructive feedback.

Another common scenario is when a fellow co-worker who may not work as closely with you offers advice. Here, determining if the advice is constructive may be a bit trickier. They may not be on the same project as you but have worked on something similar in the past and genuinely want to see you do well and improve. Again, the key question here is asking for elaboration. On the other hand, this person may be just talking to hear themselves talk, sound smarter, or to establish superiority within the workplace. In this situation, I recommend listening politely and then you can choose to disregard their advice if it seems irrelevant or unhelpful.

Once you have determined what type of criticism you are dealing with, you must move forward accordingly. If the advice was deemed non-constructive, do not dwell on it, thank them for their input, then move on. Do your best not to take offense. It is rare these comments are directed to hurt and could just be someone trying to climb the corporate ladder. However, if it is seriously offensive (i.e. sexual harassment, sexist, racist, homophobic) contact your HR department and work to resolve the conflict appropriately and professionally.

It’s all in the head

Alternatively, if the criticism is constructive, the first step is to not psych yourself out.

Remember to breathe (cry a little bit if you need to, then shake it off). This is not a personal attack on you, rather someone is telling you this because they want to see you improve. Do not be intimidated to ask for further information or ask them to give you specifics in order for you to understand and improve. Another helpful tip is to take their advice in stride; thank them for their time, re-work the project or task and reach out to the critiquer again and ask them for their feedback. Taking the criticism in stride as opposed to reacting to it with hypersensitivity has two key benefits: For one, you are demonstrating to the critiquer that you listened to them and you value their time and experience. Secondly, your work is stronger thanks to your ability to take the criticism well and move forward.

While I admit I still struggle with taking criticism constructively, I have noticed that taking these steps have made me a better individual and employee. When you learn to take criticism well, your work improves as a direct result. You will become a more marketable employee because you will move on to your next task or opportunity with the ability to take criticism and turn it into something even better. You will spend less time dwelling on your mistakes and more time strengthening your work and personal brand.

While criticism in and of itself does not define you, how you move forward with it does. So, how do you want to be seen? Someone stuck in a rut because they cannot take criticism, or an active listener and someone who will create even better work thanks to it.

Are you a constructive critic or just critical?

Posted Oct 29, 2011

Most people are very thin-skinned and easily upset when it comes to receiving criticism.

Even when criticism is constructively intended, the receiver may be sensitive and respond with feelings of anger, sadness, or guilt, especially when the criticism is delivered in a way that tends to arouse defensiveness such as sending it in the form of a “You-message.” (See “I-Statements” below.)

This is because when people receive messages that start with “You,” such as “You didn’t do this,” “You never do that,” “You always do the following,” it is natural for them to feel attacked and take a defensive or even a retaliative position.

Fortunately, there are several excellent methods for giving constructive criticism that are unlikely to trigger bad feelings.

Since requests go a much longer way toward achieving cooperation than snide remarks, put-downs and negative declarations, the first method of constructive criticism is to request a specific change in the future instead of pointing out something negative in the present.

Indeed, most would agree that hearing “In the future, please remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink” is far preferable to “You have to stop leaving your dirty dishes in the sink!”

So, instead of saying “You left the hall light on again,” try saying, “In the future, please remember to turn off the hall light.” Instead of, “I wish you’d stop wasting all of our money!” say, “In future, let’s discuss our spending plans.”

Another technique of constructive criticism is called the “sandwich method” in which one sandwiches the meat of a criticism between two positive comments.

Hence, instead of saying “You did a lousy job writing this report,” using the sandwich method one could say “You did a great job on the introduction, but the middle section and conclusion seem a little weak. With a bit more work, I’m sure you can tighten it up into a really good report.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that how you say things matters as much as what you say. If you want to deliver constructive criticism skillfully it’s helpful to practice using “I-statements” rather than “You-statements.”

The difference between an I-statement and a You-statement is simple. Consider the following rant an aggrieved mother might vent on her teenage child:

“You never come home on time! You think that everything should run on your schedule, but the rest of the family can’t always just wait around for you! Why can’t you be more considerate?” Thus: “You never. You think. Why can’t you. ” All You-statements.

In contrast, I-statements go like this: “I get really upset when I’ve fixed a family dinner and you’re not here on time. In the future, please try harder to get home on time, or call if you’re running late.”

Here’s another typical example. A spouse says: “I can’t believe how selfish you are! All you do is sit around expecting to be waited on and don’t even help with the dishes.” That’s a pretty critical You-message, right? Compare it to an I-message: “I would really appreciate it if you helped me around the house more especially with the dishes.”

Or, “You could call your mother more than once a month, you know” vs. “I think your mother would love to hear from you more often.”

So, unless you are praising someone, You-statements are usually combative. Any complaint that starts with a “you” is often hostile and will usually be felt as destructive criticism.

Try the “sandwich method” as much as possible.

Practice requesting positive change in the future instead of complaining about current behavior.

Deliver your messages in the form of I-statements rather than You-statements.

Finally, keep in mind that giving criticism is a skill that, like all skills, can be mastered through learning and practice.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

I have never believed

there is such a thing as “constructive” criticism.

Criticism. is criticism.

  • Reply to Alice
  • Quote Alice

Of course using ‘I’ instead

Of course using ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ is a good way of criticism but Thomas Gordon says ‘Even if you serve your message as a sandwich the person who is listening to you picks the sentence you want to say so it is not useful indeed,instead of it by using ‘I message’ you can say your ideas or feelings about the job directly,such as ‘I liked your introduction part,but I’m not sure about the rest,or I’d expect a better one from you..”

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