8 Tips for Dealing Calmly with Criticism

In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, was criticized and trespassed upon by the beautiful nymph, Medusa. Athena was full of rage at her words and actions, and turned Medusa into a Gorgon, with tresses made of snakes. Anyone who looked at her was turned to stone. 

Many people have a hard time being criticized, corrected, or accused – even of the smallest mistakes – and may react very angrily. Struggling to respond calmly and constructively can be a challenge.

Here are some of the strategies that I try to use to help clients accept criticism, from employers, colleagues, family members, partners, and friends.

Listen to what a critic is saying.
Really listen, try to understand that point of view, don’t just nod while you internally formulate your retorts.

Don’t be defensive.
This is the toughest step for many. With my own writing, for example, I always have to take a deep breath before reading an edit letter or meeting with an editor, to remind myself, “I welcome criticism. This person is helping me. I want to hear how to improve my book/article/post.”

Don’t fire back by criticizing your critic.
Your comments will just sound defensive, and you’ll escalate the exchange. This urge is very difficult to resist, because the impulse to justify and attack is strong when you feel criticized, but it isn’t helpful, and it certainly isn’t effective. We may not turn people into Medusa, but our words of anger resonate for long periods.

Delay your reaction.
Take the Pause. Count to ten, take a deep breath, sleep on it, wait until the next day to send that email…any kind of delay is good. I find it’s much easier to apply this rule when I’m responding in writing. Train yourself to think long and hard before hitting “send” or “enter.”

Explain honestly the reason for your actions.
Sometimes it’s tempting to re-characterize your actual feelings, actions, and motives to make yourself “look good.” Usually, though, that just complicates things more. It becomes impossible to have an honest exchange.

Admit your mistakes.
This is extremely effective.  This shows accountability and responsibility, and helps both parties move on to improve the situation.

Explain what you’ve learned.
If you can show a critic that you’ve learned something, you prove that you’ve understood the criticism and tried to act on it.

Enjoy the fun of failure.
Yes, failure can be productive. Re-frame the issue entirely to embrace criticism. Fact is, trying new things and aiming high always opens you to criticism. Being able to take it in stride, use it constructively when it’s helpful, and letting it go when it’s not: It’s a fine balance.

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