Criticism And How To Deal With It

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In our professional and personal lives, we all experience knockbacks and criticism from time to time – sometimes we haven’t prepared as well for a presentation or meeting as we should have, or we didn’t land our point in the right way. Maybe it was something we said or did that needed calling out. It happens – we’re human.

Criticism has two definitions according to the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • The first focuses on the negative: The expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.
  • The second has a more balanced view: The analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

When criticism lands in our lap, it’s worth acknowledging that however well versed or not, it will usually have a negative slant. It’s also important to remember that it will usually be based on that person’s point of view, rather than fact. Criticism isn’t always in our control; however, we can control how we respond and this can have a massive impact on our resilience and feelings of self-worth.

Now let’s be honest, there is a lot of constructive criticism out there that we can take on board to help us improve. I’ve often found that the most painful feedback is where there’s the greatest learning. In these cases, the healthiest response is to be welcoming and grateful, however hurt we’re feeling, as the information will contain nuggets of gold which we will learn and grow from.

And then, at the other end of the spectrum, there is criticism for criticism’s sake which can often be more about the person giving the criticism and issues going on with them rather than who it is aimed at.

How you receive criticism is a choice. And recognisingthe type of criticism is key to how to deal with it. If it falls into the criticism for criticism’s sake camp, then it may be best to leave it behind – literally imagine yourself putting it down, a lesson I learnt from a fabulous colleague, Justin Collinge. And if it falls in the constructive category, embrace it, take it on board and learn from it. We can all constantly improve and learn – no one is perfect.

As a recovering perfectionist, this has been a lesson that I’ve worked hard to learn: of course, we’re usually our own biggest critic. If I’m not careful, any tiny inaccuracy can be seen as a glaring error which can send me down into a vortex of doom. I host masterclasses and give talks on Gravitas globally and I am very happy to say that my feedback is 99% glowing (thank you people!). However, there is sometimes the odd 7/10 which stands out.

When we receive criticism, the first thing to ask is, is it valid? Do they have a point? Could I take learnings from this? If the answer is ‘no’, then make the decision to leave it behind.

If the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s important to reflect on what you’ll do differently next time and what support you might need. Occasionally as a speaker I’m faced with the folded arm brigade, people who might have their own views on the subject I’m covering and want me to prove myself, which is again, entirely understandable.

Preparing myself psychologically pays dividends and so I’ll always remind myself that I know what I’m talking about and have valid opinions to share. What I always find helpful in situations like this is to have what I call a virtual library of success – by this I mean a notebook or list on your phone of your achievements, testimonials and successes to call on and reference if needed.

Criticism is not going away and only we can control how we deal with it. Always remember your worth, the fact that everyone makes errors and mistakes and the most successful people learn from them and grow.

3 step approach to making criticism work for you

  1. First ask, what is my emotional response to the criticism? Am I angry, defensive, resentful, regretful, deflated, upset? Often the more extreme your response, the greater the potential learning
  2. Then consider, do I value the opinion of the person who’s delivered the criticism? What are their motives for being critical? Do I trust and respect their judgement?
  3. Then decide, do I want to ‘save’ or ‘delete’ the criticism. If ‘save’, decide what actions you’ll take. If ‘delete’, visualize yourself physically putting it down, congratulate yourself on your emotional resilience and move on.


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