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Handling Criticism

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Let’s be honest: no-one likes it when someone says something negative about them or something they’ve done.

Criticism can be helpful when it’s expressed properly. The key to dealing with or accepting criticism is how you react. Understanding what’s behind constructive feedback helps us to communicate better, while practicing useful responses benefits us and those with whom we communicate.

Types of Criticism

When someone criticizes you, identify if the criticism is constructive or non-constructive.

Constructive criticism is intended to teach, help or correct. The person giving you the feedback really feels that something must be said no matter how hard it might be for you to hear. He or she is genuinely concerned about you or your actions, and the comments are made in a helpful way.

Non-constructive or unkind criticism is inconsiderate and based on a lack of knowledge. This type of negative criticism is intended to make you feel unsure, unworthy or incompetent.

How to Respond

Remember: assertive body language - an upright confident posture, a firm voice and steady eye contact - will help you respond in a way that will earn respect, no matter which type of criticism you’re receiving.

Constructive and Truthful

If the criticism is constructive and truthful:

  • Acknowledge your mistake and accept the accuracy of the feedback.
  • Apologize, if appropriate and thank the other person for their assistance.
  • Take steps to correct the situation.

For example:

If Someone Says…

Respond by Saying…

“When you were angry you spoke to me in a very disrespectful way.” “I’m sorry, thanks for telling me. I will try to be more aware of what I say and how I say it when I am angry”.

Truthful But Not Constructive

If the criticism is truthful but not constructive:

  • Acknowledge your mistake.
  • Assert yourself when you reply to any insult.
  • Take steps to correct the situation.

For example:

If Someone Says…

Respond by Saying…

“I cannot believe what a terrible person you are - you need to work on yourself - you have some problems”. “I did lose my temper and perhaps took it out on you, and I apologize. I’ll be more aware of what I say and how I say it when I am angry”

Non-Constructive and False

If the criticism is false, ask for more information then correct the misconception.

For example:

If Someone Says…

Respond by Saying…

“You’re ALWAYS so mean”. “When else have I been mean? I know I was rude when I was angry this morning, but I don’t think I am ALWAYS mean”.

Non-Constructive and Biased

If the criticism is unkind and biased, find a small way to agree then ask for ideas.

For example:

If Someone Says…

Respond by Saying…

“I can’t believe you’re doing it this way. You’re going to mess everything up with this brainless idea of yours.” “It's possible; you might be right. But I've checked things out and I'm comfortable with my idea.” or

“Yes, I might have new problems to deal with. But I've thought about how I'll handle them if they happen.” or

“You might be right. If you can suggest a better way I’d welcome your suggestion. What’s your idea?”

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