How to Handle Criticism
Jeff Keller


There's no denying it:  criticism can (and often does) hurt.  But no matter what you do in life, you expose yourself to the possibility of being judged unfavorably.  Even if you try to remain in the background, avoiding all confrontation, you still must make decisions--minor ones, maybe, like where you eat and what you wear.  And, rest assured, not everyone will agree with your choices.

So, since you are going to receive criticism no matter what, let's take a closer look at how you can best handle (and even benefit from) it!

The next time you are criticized, consider the following points:

1.  Criticism is often nothing more than a reflection of personal preference.
Again, regardless of what you do, somebody won't like it.  For instance, to get feedback from the audience at my seminars, I often hand out speaker evaluations.  Without fail, two or three people will say that they wish there had been more time for audience participation during my presentation; at the very same program, two or three others will say that they wish there had been less time spent on group involvement.  Accept that people have diverse backgrounds, preferences, and interests.  You won't please everyone, so don't even try.

2.  Don't take it personally.
Sure, this is easier said than done.  However, the critic generally isn't trying to prove that you have no value as a person.  Rather, they're revealing their dislike of your idea or your performance.  Let them have their opinions.  In the end, you decide whether or not to let another person's remarks bother you.

3.  Strive to learn from their words.
Find some truth in their statements--even if only a shred.  Usually, there is some accuracy in critical comments. The critic may not be tactful, and the remarks may be greatly exaggerated, but there is often helpful information which you can glean.  It's your job to seek out this kernel of truth and benefit from it!  For example, let's say your spouse accuses you of "never" being on time.  While this statement is not entirely accurate, you should still consider in what ways, if any, you might improve your punctuality.

4.  Don't critique the critic.
It's an equally bad idea to adopt a "consider the source" attitude.  Even if someone is generally untrustworthy or, for whatever reason, you don't get along with him or her, it doesn't mean that their comments will always be completely without merit.

5.  Don't be defensive.
Resist the temptation to argue with the critic.  While it's only natural to try to prove that you are "right" and that the other person is "wrong," this generally gets you nowhere.  (Of course, there will be some instances where it's important to establish that you won't tolerate abusive remarks and that you deserve to be treated with respect.  Use your best judgment.)

6.  Accept that many people focus only on negatives.
The critic rarely gives a full, accurate assessment.  He or she tends to report only the negatives, even if there are plenty of positives to mention as well.  Recognize that some people simply think it's unnecessary to tell you what you've done right.  Instead, they focus only on "helping" you--which, to them, means "correcting" you.

7.  Realize that vicious, harsh comments come from people who are unhappy with themselves.
Here again, there might be a shred of truth or something you can learn from the criticism.  But I've found that mean, angry, insulting remarks spring from unhappy, insecure people.  They have to vent their anger and frustration on someone and you've been chosen as today's target!  Don't let these people bring you down.  NOTE:  If you repeatedly receive harsh words from others, it's not a coincidence.  You are attracting criticism based on your beliefs and your level of self-esteem.  Take responsibility and look inward at what you can change to achieve more harmonious relationships with those around you.

Remember:  not everyone will like you, your goals, or your actions.  But don't let the fear of criticism stop you from doing what you want.  Accept criticism as a part of life, and learn from it where possible.  And, most importantly, stay true to your own values and convictions.  If others don't approve, so what?

* * * * *

Jeff Keller is the President of Attitude is Everything, Inc.  For more than 20 years, Jeff has delivered presentations on attitude and motivation to businesses, groups and trade associations throughout the United States and abroad. Jeff is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Attitude is Everything. For more information, go to


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