How To Handle Constructive Criticism And Be Receptive To Feedback

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No one likes to be criticized, particularly about something that they invested a considerable amount of time and effort into.

The feelings that come from criticism can be difficult to manage because criticism can feel like a personal attack, as though they are criticizing who you are as opposed to your actions.

Yet, criticism can’t be avoided if you want to accomplish anything in life…

Someone is always going to have an opinion on what you say or do and they will not be shy about expressing their feelings!

That isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Constructive criticism, and even negative criticism for that matter, can be a great catalyst to help propel you forward in life by honing whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.

There will always be people who are more experienced, know more, or have more skill.

An ability to accept constructive criticism and shrug off negative criticism gives you powerful tools to grow and improve.

How can you better handle the criticism you will experience?

1. Always Give Your Best Effort

The effort you put into a project can trickle down into how you feel about it afterwards.

Criticism is much easier to accept or shrug off if you know you put your best effort into your actions.

The initial sting of critical words can be dampened by reminding oneself that you did give it your best effort instead of feeling like you’re being called out on a sub-par performance.

Negative criticism can feel extra harsh if you know there is a valid reason for it. Such as, “Yeah, I really didn’t try as hard as I probably should have.”

Instead of feeling defensive and angry, you may experience guilt, shame, or sadness.

By putting your best effort into what you do, regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, you remove this guilt, shame, and sadness from the equation.

It offers you more freedom and greater ability to listen to that feedback and ask yourself, “What can I actually learn from this criticism?”

The other problem with not putting in the effort is that the critic is not getting an accurate representation of your skill or ability.

They cannot actually offer you constructive criticism if they look at your project and see that you cut corners or took the easy route in finishing it.

If they can tell that you didn’t try then they aren’t going to be able to give you constructive feedback without sorting through the effects of the corners that were cut.

And a lot of people aren’t going to want to take the time to meaningfully consider something that you didn’t put your all into.

Always give your best effort. It makes everything easier and gives you the opportunity to improve, even if it is more time consuming and difficult.

2. Don’t Act On Your Initial Reaction

Any kind of confrontation or uncomfortable situation is going to cause an emotional reaction.

An immensely powerful skill to work on is learning to not act on your initial emotional reaction.

This is good not just for accepting criticism, but almost every walk of life or thing that you need to be involved with.

An initial emotional reaction is usually a gut-shot, something that hits us hard and evokes a powerful response.

Yet that response may not be in tune with the facts and reality of the situation.

By not acting on your initial response, you give yourself time to gain composure, assess the situation more clearly, and then decide how you want to respond without the situation devolving into a disagreement and a breakdown in communication.

That doesn’t mean that the initial response is always wrong. Intuition is an important tool that we use when trying to sort our way through life.

And sometimes your response or intuition may be completely or partially correct.

Even still, getting into the habit of taking a minute to contemplate your response and decide on your course of action is a good habit to develop.

Your immediate response may be to defend, deflect, or retaliate. Avoid those actions as an immediate response.

3. Reframe The Information You Are Receiving

There are many situations where you can turn a negative into a positive.

To some, this seems like a ridiculous exercise in false positivity, but it’s not.

In fact, there’s no reason why one needs to automatically default to a negative perception of a thing, even if the thing happens to be negative itself.

You can look at a lost job as a potential for new opportunity, the end of a relationship as the start of personal reflection and new beginnings, and criticism as a tool to grow – even when it’s not constructive.

Even the harshest of criticism may contain fragments of truth that can help you learn and grow.

On the other hand, maybe it won’t.

Maybe the person didn’t even bother to look at what you did. Perhaps, out of jealousy or envy, they just wanted to try to knock you down a peg for trying to do something.

And if that’s the case, there’s no reason to care about what that person has to say in the first place.

In that scenario, it just becomes something to shrug off and move on from.

The key is to think about what the person is directly and indirectly saying about your thing.

Directly, you have their words. Indirectly, you have what they are trying to say between the lines or the emotions associated with that piece of feedback.

Can you tell why they offered the criticism in the first place?

Are they saying anything of substance, or are they just talking to hear themselves talk?

What can you take away from their feedback that you can use to better yourself or your work?

A commenter may say, “Hey! Your writing sucks!”

Well, you can turn that around and ask them why does it suck?

Their answer will tell you a few different things.

First, it will likely tell you whether or not they actually read and understood what you wrote. Was it a matter of structure? Formatting? Pacing? Or was it that the person just wants to be contrary for the sake of causing problems?

Negative and shallow criticism should be looked at as two different things, because they are.

What’s the difference?

Negative criticism is when someone actually takes the time to understand or take in your work, but doesn’t like or agree with it.

Shallow criticism is when someone hasn’t taken a meaningful look at your work and just wants to try to tear you down because they can, which happens a lot on social media and the internet in general.

Constructive criticism is solid, but can sting. Positive criticism is nice because it can make us feel good and reinforce that we’re making the right choices.

Negative criticism may be negative and hurtful, but sometimes meaningful information can be gleaned from it.

Shallow criticism – “Hey! Your writing sucks!” – is useless and should generally be ignored.

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4. Offer Gratitude To Your Critics

Gratitude is a powerful thing.

It can tear down walls that are hardened by cynicism and bitterness.

It can make people feel appreciated in a world that often overlooks them.

Funnily enough, gratitude can also catch a hostile person completely off guard and defuse a confrontation.

People who are angry are typically expecting others to respond back to them with anger. Responding with softness or gratitude can really disrupt their negativity.

One way to use this in practice is to simply appreciate anyone who took time out of their day, time they will never get back, to examine or take in your work.

Not everyone will or wants to do that. The fact that they’re willing to give you some of their time at all is something that you can be grateful for.

That also helps to lessen the blow that comes with constructive criticism.

It may feel like an attack, but a person who is providing constructive criticism is sacrificing their time to help you improve what you have to offer.

They may not be correct, you may not agree with them, but they still did give up valuable time for you.

5. Use The Criticism To Grow And Improve

Quite a few people tend to skip this important part of receiving feedback.

Feedback can be used to grow and improve on whatever it is you’re doing if you are willing to put in the effort to learn how to do it better.

The criticism you received can serve as a valuable beacon that will guide you to a more successful resolution or better quality end product if you will let it.

Be willing to make changes that can help you grow, but don’t lose your own sense of personal style in the process.

After all, a critic may be someone who just doesn’t jive with your style.

If you have a lot of people who enjoy what you’re doing, perhaps your style and effort just isn’t meant for that particular critic.

That’s okay.

There are two good ways to really find what you should improve on.

The first is that the critic will thoroughly articulate what change you need to make and why it should be made.

You’ll be able to clearly understand where this person is coming from and why they think you should change your effort in a particular way.

The second way is through common feedback.

Look for the things that people are commenting repeatedly on. That will help you hone in on specific facets of your approach that can be improved.

6. Take The High Road And Act With Professionalism

The desire to step into conflict is strong when you’re dealing with criticism of a personal nature.

If you’ve spent hours and hours working on a thing and people come out of the woodwork to tell you how that thing is not good, it can feel hurtful and personal.

A critic who is just looking to do harm may make personal attacks in their criticism.

Taking the high road is the best way to go.

You can simply not respond to personal attacks and only focus on the constructive parts of that criticism.

The person commenting may not be a bad person. They might just be having a bad day and spoke rashly.

You will also find that by responding professionally, you can win over some negative critics and even raise yourself in the eyes of your audience by being able to handle difficult situations with tact and finesse.

Knowing what battles not to fight is an admirable trait because not a lot of people choose that.

Embrace this common internet advice – “Don’t feed the trolls.”

Feeding the trolls is engaging them, giving them attention, giving them the emotional reaction that they are looking for to sow misery and chaos wherever they touch.

It’s typically a better idea to say nothing and let them stew in their own swamps alone.

Engaging with these individuals is often a no-win situation, because even if you feel like you won against a troll, you still have that lack of professionalism and exchange out in the world for the rest of your potential audience to see and judge by.

That should be avoided.

Maintain your cool and composure by looking for the difference between a person criticizing who you are as a person versus criticizing your work.

A positive attitude, a little grace, and some humility can help you be a better, happier you as well as provide the knowledge you need to grow in whatever it is you’re doing.

Get out there and keep working hard! You’ll get there.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspectives from the side of the mental health consumer. Jack has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.