How Do You Handle Criticism?

Key Point: being able to constructively deal with criticism is very important to your career advancement. What’s your mental model and emotional toolkit to achieve this?

I recently did one of those leadership assessments that asked me if I found criticism to be hurtful. I wanted to say “no;” real tough-minded leaders are immune to criticism. But, of course, that’s not the case. Some criticism is a just a little pinch but occasionally it can be darn painful.

Research indicates that maintaining a positive perspective helps us deal with negative feedback productively. Additionally, introspection and self-awareness enable us to more accurately and objectively assess criticism. Self-confidence, drive, openness to experience, and being conscientious about self improvement also helps. People more readily accept criticism when they feel that how they receive it is fair and well intended.

Character Move: the following are six coping strategies for managing criticism constructively (excerpted and expanded from a Forbes article by Christine M. Riordan, dean and professor of management at the Daniels College of Business).

1. Feel the emotions, and then move on. Criticism naturally stings, but successful people tend to recognize the emotions and then move forward in a positive way. They don’t dwell on the hurt.

2. Build a support network to help you calibrate. Research has confirmed the importance of non-work relationships which can offer care, acceptance, additional feedback, perspective, and consolation.

3. Be self-aware. This is fundamental to having a high emotional quotient (EQ). Data has shown that self-aware people rate themselves more accurately in performance assessments than those low in self-awareness. Research has also shown that they create a more positive organizational climate and relate better to others.

4. Serve a higher purpose. A deep belief that our intent is to serve a higher purpose, such as the good of the organization, can help us weather strong criticism. It helps when we are authentic and have our “heart in the right place.” We are not nor ever will be “perfect.”

5. Have a sense of humor. It is important to recognize that we are learning and evolving beings. As the saying goes, “you only trip when you’re moving.” It helps to add a little humor into the mix.

6. Pull out the learning and do not be defensive. Listen. Learn what the underlying message is. And, this is hard to do, if the person giving you feedback genuinely cares, there is likely very important information for your personal development. Dig deeper to understand and then allow for self reflection.

As a great American writer, Elbert Hubbard, noted:

“The final proof of greatness is being able to endure criticism without resentment.”

Criticism in the Triangle,



One Comment
  1. Paul says:

    I think the problem with criticism most of the time is the way it’s given, it makes the other person feel less usefull just because they lack in some areas. Most managers don’t reallize right away that an employee’s lack of performance might be that they are underqualified for the job, not only technically but they are underqualified maturity-wise for their position. A computer programmer might be an ace, but he might have the maturity of a teenager. Most managers will not admit it to themselves right away because that will be like blaming himself for not having been a good screener of an employee, or not having paid more for a better qualified employee, so he’d rather blame the employee.

    I think it’s just as important for management to know how to give constructive criticism as it is for an employee to accept it, it’s a fine line between criticism and a personal attack or an insult, and most managers don’t feel it’s important to know the difference because after all they are the “all-knowing” boss, why else would they be in that position. We are all very familiar with the difference between criticism and insult growing up with parents and authority figures. Too many times the criticizer relishes in criticizing the other to make themselves feel superior, it happens subconciously most of the time, and then later when the manager thinks about what he said and how badly a criticism went he might wish he approached it differently.

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