Make criticism work for you

Ever wondered how a single negative remark can so easily overshadow multiple positive comments? Or why having someone criticise us can cause such a strong emotional reaction? It may all come down to the primitive parts of our brain and our drive to belong: receiving criticism could have been a real threat to our place in our tribe. Fast forward to the 21st century, and being criticised may not be a danger to our survival, but let’s face it – it’s still pretty hard to take…

Thankfully, dealing with negative feedback is a skill we can practise. And there are ways to lessen its impact – and even better: make it work for us not against us.

1. Know you’ll attract criticism whatever you do

Criticism is as inevitable as bad weather. Whatever we do, there’ll be grey days when it rains sideways. Likewise, whatever we do, there’ll always be someone who thinks we’re doing it wrong, whether it’s our work, our creative pursuits, or our style of parenting… But we can practice dealing with criticism so that it won’t ruin our day any more than a downpour does.

And knowing that criticism is a given can help us take it less personally. Count each incident as part of your personal ‘criticism quota’ if you like… And keep doing what you love. There’ll always be storms and there’ll always be those who dislike what you do. Your gifts are not for them anyway.

2. Separate the wheat from the chaff

A lot of the negative feedback we encounter in our lives has very little to do with us, and a lot to do with what is going on with the other person. From jealousy to misunderstandings, many things can distort people’s opinions. Also, when negative feedback doesn’t offer any value – how we could improve, for example – shrug it off, and move on.

At the same time, stay open to receiving honest feedback. When criticism is appropriate and fair, and given with good intentions and comes from a genuine will to help, it’s a gift that can propel us further forward than praise.

3. Make criticism work for you

Robin Sharma (author and leadership advisor) wrote:

“Negative feedback can make us bitter or better.”

Go for better. When you receive thoughtful criticism from someone, mine it for the gold: look at the feedback like an instruction manual with the most relevant bits highlighted just for you – and use them to your benefit.

Then let it go and move on. Remind yourself that everyone is constantly learning and improving and give yourself praise for your ability to grow.

4. Use mindfulness to deal with criticism

So, we’re all set to use criticism to our advantage, but there’s still the matter of that fight-or-flight response triggering every time we’re told we’ve fallen short of expectations… We want to do this right, but stress hormones are circulating, and the primitive parts of our brain are sending out urgent signals to shut down, to put up our defences or even to lash out in retaliation. Needless to say, we’re not at our most receptive to taking feedback on board…

If possible, put some space between yourself and the source of criticism. Walk away from your computer or phone, or if face-to-face, ask if you can have a moment to digest the feedback before you respond. Then engage in an activity that helps you calm down. Brew a mug of tea, read a book, go for a walk… (if it’s an email or letter that’s fired you up or broken you down then pen your response if you must but wait… twenty four hours later you’ll probably be making some major edits and soaking up the relief that you didn’t respond immediately) If you can’t leave the situation, focus on breathing deeply while you listen. The calmer we feel, the more likely we are to find the value in the feedback.


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