Managing Criticism Effectively

How do we effectively manage criticism?

Someone may not like our cooking, the way we dress, the article we wrote, or the way we performed on the job.

What is our typical response or reaction?

  • Accept what they say and then up our game? 
  • Become defensive and take it personally?
  • Reject the criticism based on objective criteria?
  • Eat a gallon of ice cream?

Here are some ways to build on what critics tell us.

Be a Duck not a Sponge

Considering the source of criticism is a key to managing it well. There are four types of people who evaluate us. These include

1.  The truly wise people and subject matter experts. These we respect and do well to heed their input (Accept their input and return to them often)

2.  Those who have our best interests at heart who may say “This is a good start but you are much better than this or you have lot more research to do on this subject”(Accept the input)

3.  The armchair critics who do not give much thought to what they are criticizing. They are therefore unqualified to judge our work because they don’t really know our work or us (Reject the criticism)

4.  Those with a track record of negativity. We avoid such naysayers. Unfortunately, more often than not, these harsh critics reside in our head. I love how writer Natalie Goldberg describes the voice of this inner critic as the “jabbering of an old drunk fool.” (Don’t listen to these empty words)

Consideringthe source of the criticism helps us decide whether to be a sponge or a duck in relationship to water, i.e. take it in or let it run off our backs.

Look for the Pony 

Viewing feedback as a gift ensures it’s best impact and keeps our emotions in check. It is much like the response of pessimists and optimists to a pile of manure. The former reflects on the foul sight and smell of the manure. The latter enthusiastically says, “Where’s the pony?” and begins to dig for it.

Pony seekers’ would typically respond to any valid form of feedback by saying,  “This is a work in progress and I’m on a learning curve.”

Sharpen the Pencil

Because of the critic’s evaluation we can choose to work on being better rather than become bitter. Wisdom would typically respond to valid criticism by saying,

“How can I incorporate these observations into my work?” 

“I will discipline myself to work on this project every day.”

The reality is that all great work has false starts and imperfect beginnings. All good writers have, in the words of author Anne Lamott, “shitty first drafts”.

Self-criticism and receiving criticism is par for the course whenever we put ourselves and our efforts up for public scrutiny. We have to learn that transcending criticism and making it work for us is much like a martial arts strategy. When someone lunges at us, we use their momentum and force to destabilize and throw them. It is therefore possible to make criticism work for us by either accepting it in one form or another or rejecting it in part or outright.


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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