Hate Negative Feedback? How To Turn Any Criticism To Your Advantage

Within most criticism, there can be some insight that you can take to grow, learn, change and improve in some way.

You’ve heard it a thousand times… don’t take criticism personally.  But if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of critical feedback (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), you’ll know that being told “not to take it personally” does little to soften the blow. That’s because criticism strikes at the heart of our identity. It always feels like a blow to our fundamental desire to feel valued, accepted and admired. Being told we have done a lousy job, or have work to do, have not ‘passed muster’ or suffer from some permanent inadequacy, can feel like a punch in the gut.

So while the idea of not taking criticism personally is unrealistic at least, and outright harmful at best, it’s important for your wellbeing and future success that you neither over or under personalize it.  As much as you may dislike being criticized, learning how to extract any value it holds without curling up in a ball or discounting it outright is a skill worth learning.  Reflecting on these six questions will help you do just that.


1. Could this criticism hold anything valuable for me?

First up, decide if it’s worth taking on. Let’s face it, the world is full of critics. What you need to decide is how much authority you want to give to the person who has criticized you to begin with. If they’re doing it anonymously (such as the cowardly trolls do on social media), then I would recommend “not much”! Yet if they are someone you know, someone who generally would not be critical without a good reason, then maybe their feedback is well worth trying to understand. Obviously, if it’s your boss or someone you need to get along with to move forward, then whether or not you hold them very highly, you need to hear them out and look at how you can respond constructively to whatever feedback they’re giving.

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2. Where am I over personalizing what is being said?

Often, criticism is so laden with emotion that it’s hard to be objective about it. If you’ve found yourself feeling very sensitive, write down the key pieces of criticism leveled at you in a very factual and dispassionate way. Precisely what did you do or fail to do? The more you pull out the dramatic language and distance yourself from the emotions, the better placed you’ll be to respond objectively.

Who you are is not the results you produce, good or not so good. So if criticism is warranted, distinguish your innate worthiness from the object of the criticism. No one is good at everything and even people who excel at many things can sometimes make mistakes or fall short of expectations. So no matter how hard you’ve tried to get things right, if someone points out where you fell short, don’t beat up on yourself. That serves no one. Far more fruitful is to forgive your fallibility, identify what led to the shortfall, adjust course accordingly and recommit to doing better. Remember, failure is an event, not a person. Now that you know better, you can do better.

3. What concerns is the person giving it speaking from?

All criticism is not created equal. Some of it is invaluable and comes from a genuine concern to help you in some way, and some of it should be taken with a grain of salt.  Just keep in mind, that people are always speaking from a concern on some level. That concern may be to support your future success or help you address a behavior that they believe is sabotaging you.

On the flip side, it may be that they are simply jealous of you or so insecure about themselves that they need to put you down (or push you out) in order to help prop themselves up.   If you’re not sure, then try to validate it with other people whom you know have no reason not to be honest with you. And if it proves invalid, then at least you can filter everything else this person does through the lens of the insecurity, jealousy and motivations that led the to giving it in the first place.


4. What’s the one core gem in what has been said that I can use to better myself?

Within most criticism, there can be some insight that you can take to grow, learn, change and improve in some way. So even if you’ve been criticized harshly or feel it’s unfair, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are always going to be critics, but sometimes they have reasons worth hearing out. So where you can, ask for examples to explain precisely what they are talking about and get actionable feedback rather than vague oblique “you should just do better with this” kinds of comments.  Whatever is said, be sure to look for the gem hiding in the rubble and be intentional in using it well. The other bits? Leave them in the rubble. Some people find it so hard to give criticism that when they finally do, they find themselves dredging up all sorts of irrelevant things from long ago that may be completely unreasonable or irrelevant to where you are right now. Filter out what’s actionable. Leave the rest.


5. What new actions can I take to further my success?

No matter how harshly people might judge you, you always have a choice about how you respond to it . Sure, it can be discouraging when your boss sends your work back to you with red ink all over it, but these are your best opportunities to get better. And sure, getting nothing but praise may feel preferable, but it doesn’t give you nearly as much opportunity to hone your game and expand your skill set.  While criticism may be tough to hear, you are far better off with a manager who is willing to give you concise, constructive and actionable feedback than one who is too cowardly to say anything but whose lack of backbone and integrity could hurt you far more in the longer term.


6. Do I need to thank them for caring enough to share it?

Not everyone deserves to be thanked for giving critical feedback. However, if you know the person providing it to you has done so with the best of intentions, then thank them for caring enough to share it with you. Maybe they didn’t deliver it particularly well. Maybe they were a little too harsh. Just recognize that for many people, giving critical feedback is actually incredibly difficult and can take a lot of courage as they risk the possibility of you not responding well. So as tough as it might be for you to hear it, by acknowledging that they laid their own vulnerability and comfort on the line for your benefit, you can help to pave the way for far more fruitful conversations in the future.

Last but not least, remember that the best managers give feedback – of all types – consistently, in real time rather than waiting for the annual performance review  to roll around. If you’ve got such a boss, show your gratitude by proactively responding to it and thanking them for putting your long term success ahead of their own short term comfort. You can also commit to being the kind of manager and person who has the character and courage to do the same for others.

Margie Warrell is a bestselling author, speaker on brave leadership & host of Live Brave Podcast. Connect on Linked InTwitter & Facebook.

Originally published at Forbes