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4 Constructive Ways to Deal with Criticism

To live and be part of a community at work, home or school means we are sometimes told truths we may not like to know or hear. We get labeled for our shortcomings and judged on our failures and mistakes. While the temptation to block out the unpleasant feedback is strong, we stunt our personal growth and potential by doing so.

It’s terribly hard to be on the receiving end of disapproval and negative appraisals, but if we succeed in building our strengths and managing our weaknesses, the world can become our oyster. Below are four ways to deal with criticism:

  1. Take time to cool down, set boundaries, and respond, not react.
    Criticism, regardless of good or bad intention, can cut deep into our psyche. If it’s dished out in a conversation and the speaker is going overboard, set your boundaries by asking for a timeout. Explain that you heard what has been said but it is too much to digest at the moment. Affirm that you would like to resume the discussion when you’re more receptive to the subject.

    If the tough message is delivered via text or email, refrain from replying immediately. Take your eyes off those words, go for a walk, take a shower or do something else to refocus your thoughts on something more positive. In either case, after you have cooled down, strive to respond maturely instead of lashing back and triggering a vicious cycle of conflict.

  2. Focus on the points, not the tone, labels, and judgment.
    Ideally, everyone would be a master of communication, but that is unrealistic. Sometimes good advice can get lost in poor choice of words or harsh tones. Other times feedback delivered with malice can contain constructive points on areas of improvement. It’s important to focus on the ideas of the message, not the tone, labels, intention of the speaker and his or her judgment. To shift your attention away from the hurt feelings and avoid wasting life wallowing in self-pity, channel your thoughts on the constructive action that can be taken.
  3. Use it to fuel you, not bring you down.
    When assaulted by painful, if well-meaning, facts, the best revenge is to use the pain to move forward. It’s almost impossible to feel immune to criticism, especially when it’s true. We can use hurt, feelings of rejection and unworthiness to motivate us to overcome and achieve mastery over our flaws and flourish despite them.

    Positive change is never easy. Each time you feel like throwing in the towel, recall the terrible emotions you felt when being made aware of your limitations. Tell yourself that you want to keep going because you do not want to experience that sense of defeat again.

  4. Understand where the speaker is coming from.
    It’s important to understand the context in which the speaker’s opinions were formed. He or she may come from a different era, upbringing value system, set of priorities, aspirations, and goals than you do. Take that into account, choose parts of the message that align with your own internal compass, and shake off the rest. Do not completely discard the points you find irrelevant to you. Advice that feels unsuitable now might well be highly valuable when you are in a different frame of mind at a different age or life stage.

Disapproving woman photo available from Shutterstock

4 Constructive Ways to Deal with Criticism

Sylvia Huang

Sylvia Huang is a blogger on life ideas that make every day feel good. She writes about habits and productivity, health and wellness, communication and money matters and shares them with her 200,000 social media followers. Her inspiration comes from her experiences living in Japan, France, Kenya, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, working in the fund management industry and travels in over 25 countries. Read her other articles on her website, and join her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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APA Reference
Huang, S. (2018). 4 Constructive Ways to Deal with Criticism. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.