How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation

June 3, 2008 2:54pm CST
how to take criticism with grace and appreciation. Stop Your First Reaction If your first reaction is to lash back at the person giving the criticism, or to become defensive, take a minute before reacting at all. Take a deep breath, and give it a little thought. Personally, I tend to get a little angry when I’m criticized. But I have also taught myself not to react right away. For example, I’ll let a critical email sit in my inbox for at least an hour before replying. Or I’ll walk away from someone instead of saying something I’ll regret later. That cooling off time allows me to give it a little more thought beyond my initial reaction. It allows logic to step in, past the emotion. I don’t have anything against emotion, but when it’s a negative emotion, sometimes it can cause more harm than good. So I let my emotions run their course, and then respond when I’m calmer. Turn a Negative Into a Positive One of the keys to my success in anything I do is my ability to find positive things in things that most people see as a negative. Sickness forces me to stop my exercise program? That’s a welcome rest. Tired of my job? That’s a time to rediscover what’s important and to look for a better job. Supertyphoon ruined all my possessions? This allowed me to realize that my stuff wasn’t important, and to be thankful that my loved ones were still alive and safe. You can do the same thing with criticism: find the positive in it. Sure, it may be rude and mean, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of gold: honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement. For example, this criticism: “You write about the same things over and over and your posts are boring and stale.” Can be read: “I need to increase the variety of my posts and find new ways of looking at old things.” That’s just one example of course — you can do that with just about any criticism. Sometimes it’s just someone having a bad day, but many times there’s at least a grain of truth in the criticism. See it as an opportunity to improve — and without that constant improvement, we are just sitting still. Improvement is a good thing. Thank the Critic Even if someone is harsh and rude, thank them. They might have been having a bad day, or maybe they’re just a negative person in general. But even so, your attitude of gratitude will probably catch them off-guard. And you know what? My habit of thanking my critics has actually won a few of them over. They became friends of mine, and eventually a couple of them became some of my biggest proponents. All because of a simple act of saying thank you for the criticism. It’s unexpected, and often appreciated. And even if the critic doesn’t take your “thank you” in a good way, it’s still good to do — for yourself. It’s a way of reminding yourself that the criticism was a good thing for you, a way of keeping yourself humble. Learn from the Criticism After seeing criticism in a positive light, and thanking the critic, don’t just move on and go back to business as usual. Actually try to improve. That’s a difficult concept for some people, because they often think that they’re right no matter what. But no one is always right. You, in fact, may be wrong, and the critic may be right. So see if there’s something you can change to make yourself better. And then make that change. Actually strive to do better. When I received criticism that my posts weren’t as good as they could be, I strove to improve. I tried hard to write better posts. Now, did I actually accomplish that? That’s a matter of opinion — some will say no, while others seemed to enjoy the posts. Personally, I’ve been rather proud of some of these posts, and I’m glad I made the extra effort. Be the Better Person Too many times we take criticism as a personal attack, as an insult to who we are. But it’s not. Well, perhaps sometimes it is, but we don’t have to take it that way. Take it as a criticism of your actions, not your person. If you do that, you can detach yourself from the criticism emotionally and see what should be done. But the way that many of us handle the criticisms that we see as personal attacks is by attacking back. “I’m not going to let someone talk to me that way.” Especially if this criticism is made in public, such as in the comments of a blog. You have to defend yourself, and attack the attacker … right? Wrong. By attacking the attacker, you are stooping to his level. Even if the person was mean or rude, you don’t have to be the same way. You don’t have to commit the same sins. Be the better person. If you can rise above the petty insults and attacks, and respond in a calm and positive manner to the meat of the criticism, you will be the better person. And guess what? There are two amazing benefits of this: 1. Others will admire you and think better of you for rising above the attack. Especially if you remain positive and actually take the criticism well. This has happened to me, when people actually complimented me on how I handled attacking comments. 2. You will feel better about yourself. By participating in personal attacks, we dirty ourselves. But if we can stay above that level, we feel good about who we are. And that’s the most important benefit of all. How do you stay above the attacks and be the better person? By removing yourself from the criticism, and looking only at the actions criticized. By seeing the positive in the criticism, and trying to improve. By thanking the critic. And by responding with a positive attitude. A quick example: Someone criticizes one of my posts by saying, “You’re an idiot. I don’t understand what x has to do with y.” My typical response will be to first, ignore the first sentence. And second, to say something like, “Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify that. I don’t think I made it as clear as I should have. What x has to do with y is … blah blah. Thanks for the great question!” And by ignoring the insult, taking it as an opportunity to clarify, thanking the critic, using the opportunity to explain my point further, and staying positive, I have accepted the criticism with grace and appreciation. And in doing so, remained the better person, and felt great about myself.
10 responses
6 Jun 08
I’m a member of an online writing group and it’s taught me both to give and receive constructive criticism with good grace. A lot of the time the critiques we’re giving each other will be of individual aspects of a story that need working on, but sometimes there’ll be a more fundamental problem. That’s when the advice you give above comes in useful. To wait before firing off a “you’re talking rubbish!” reply is a good one, as usually if I give myself time to read it over again I’ll realise that “yeah, that’s a good point” and usually I already had an underlying niggle that it was a problem anyway. I actually find it flattering now if people raise a serious issue they are having with a story on list rather than by private email, since it shows they think I’m mature enough not to go into a sulk about it, and that I welcome the criticism as well as the praise. One time another member emailed me to say someone had emailed her off list saying she’d been too harsh in her critique of my work and that it was cheeky to offer suggestions for changes. I reassured her that I didn’t think she was harsh or cheeky. Heck, she’s one of the best critics on the group and I always look forward to her comments as I know she’ll be fair, but won’t let anything slide either. I still find it hard to deal with face to face criticism, I get defensive, I know. But I’m learning and your tips are a help with that.
5 Jun 08
Nice article. The thing that came to my mind after having read it is whether we should always respond only to the constructive part of criticism? When we do it this way (so we act as if the “you-re-an-idiot” part nether happened) somehow we send a message: “you can say that people are idiots and it is allright”. But it is not form my point of view.
5 Jun 08
A really good article! I have trouble sometimes with accepting criticism, but it’s actually quite easy to act on criticism which isn’t aimed at yourself but what you have done. If someone says for example, that they don’t like my new layout and give me tips to improve it, I am never angry at them or anything, it’s just their opinion. What’s harder, is when s.o. criticises yourself! E.g. I talk alot. I talk quickly. I also can’t take it when people ridicule my character, and I get sulky sometimes. Then, if someone criticises these things, I don’t know what to do, since I already know these things and am not particulalry happy about them. How do you tell people that you’re aware of your deficencies and are working on it? When I was 12, my three best friends took me aside and said “this can’t go on… you really have to change.” I still don’t know what was so terribly bad about my character then. I think it was just mean 12 year old’s behaviour. But I still feel about it and it’s influenced my way of dealing with criticism.
5 Jun 08
Whenever someone is being mean or rude, I try to remind myself that 99% of the time, it is about THEM, not YOU. Either they are having a rough day or they are jealous, ETC ETC . Also, IMHO, the two of the most important words are “So What?”. So What if they think my article sucked? What’s the worse thing that can happen?
5 Jun 08
I use “so what?” as often as I can remember to and it works. To Kim’s point, it begs the question of “What’s the worst thing that can happen as a result of their opinion?” Another phrase I LOVE (that I stole from a totally laid back, open-minded friend of mine) is “That’s cool.” No matter what you tell this guy and no matter how bad you think it is, his response is always, “That’s cool, man.”
5 Jun 08
Thanks so much for writing this article! I just discovered your amazing website last night and have found so much wisdom in it. As a musician, I am faced with both positive and negative feedback and I have a really difficult time with hearing the negative. I was relieved to learn that my initial reactions are common and I took what you suggested about thanking the critic to heart. I really want to be one who accepts criticism with grace and appreciation. Thanks again for showing me how it’s possible.
4 Jun 08
his is a great reminder that we can only control ourselves, not others. So, while someone may give us harsh negative feedback, we still have the ability to be graceful in our response. A hard thing to do, but like you said, the more mature, “better” way to handle an attack.
4 Jun 08
Thank you! Your humility and willingness to learn new ideas is what attracted (and keeps) me to Zen Habits. Just experienced the frustration of critical behavior earlier today. Though nothing terribly nasty was said to me “verbally,” when my employer asked me some questions (he already knew the answer) in the presence of another executive, it felt like a task I’d overlooked got messed up twice. My first reaction was to shore up my resentment by (only mentally) listing all evidence of my work performance that excels. Took a few deep breaths and then realized my employer is experiencing some mounting pressure regarding his own status - it was as though I could feel HIS fear. My resentment quickly turned to empathy, followed by a decision to pivot and press on with a smile. What a noticeable difference this has already made in how the morning is progressing!
4 Jun 08
Great article, it’s given me something to think about. All too often in the past I’ve either ignored remarks or responded to a smart-a_s criticism with a smart-a_s response of my own. This is why as much as possible I always ask for constructive feedback. Most people take the hint and provide something useful rather than blindly saying you/it sucks.
@teka44 (3425)
• Brazil
3 Jun 08
Hi. Accept criticism in a good way is a good thing, but it depend what kind of criticism. Some criticism is good and constructive and we need to accept it and learn with. But some criticism is bad and want to destroy a person and his work. It is a bad thing and we can and MUST reject it because the people that do this don't want to increase or improve but only destroy with poisonous things. I know some people that lost their self confidence because of that. We need to have good sense to evaluate the criticism. cheers