A kinder approach to deal with criticism

Do’s and don’t when receiving criticism


Imagine this – or better: remember this, as everybody’s been in this situation.

You’re receiving feedback or criticism from a colleague or manager during your evaluation. You feel this feedback is not justified and it feels like a personal attack. You’re already getting angry or sad.

This time however, before opening your mouth to respond and defend yourself, follow the tips in this post to better deal with criticism.

No, do NOT take a hit

It’s “normal” to take a hit when you’re given criticism. After all, the criticaster must have a point, right? Wrong. There are multiple scenario’s when you run into criticism:

  1. The criticaster has ulterior motives and does not have your best interest at heart.
  2. The criticaster is holding you to his or her own standards. This is a little better than 1, but not necessarily by much.
  3. The person providing feedback has your best interest at heart. If this is the case, it’s best use the feedback to improve aspects of your behavior.

However, how do you know if the last is the case? This is very hard. Especially in the moment itself. Therefore, it might be better to reflect on the criticism or feedback to see what you should do with it.

Also, taking above into account, it is important to keep in mind the motives of the person saying something about you. The person is not necessarily more right than you are. Criticism is not always justified and per definition it is subjective. Remember that.

Who’s right?

What gives them the right to criticize you? Criticasters usually think they’re on the moral high ground. That is often why they think they have the right to say something. But should someone else’s moral framework be leading for you? Of course not. Maybe you’re more the creative type who wants to develop new stuff, while the person providing criticism finds it more important to deliver work without any mistake. However, one moral standard is not necessarily better than the other.

Too much criticism can even hurt productivity in an department.


Blind spots when you deal with criticism

When your performance is evaluated by your manager, the idea is to point out blind spots to you. Behavior or underperformance you’re not aware of. As this is kind of in their job description, this is what managers do. Often, this is meant more as advice than criticism. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for you of course and it does not necessarily mean it was really a blind spot for you. Therefore, it is important for you to assess if you can do something with the advise.

Criticism can be like layer cake

Criticism is like layer cake. There’s multiple aspects you need to be aware of and investigate to really know what you can do with the criticism. The reason for certain criticism could be that a colleague thinks he or she is doing a better job than you are. Another reason could be that your colleague is naturally very critical. Also, as mentioned earlier, the motives of your colleague and / or manager may not be in line with your best interest. If this is the case, you can also take advantage with this knowledge. Maybe the overly critical colleague just wants a compliment for his or her work.

Do’s and don’t when receiving criticism

How can you better deal with criticism? Follow the 4 step model below. It helps to practice this sometimes, especially when you know a difficult conversation will come up. If you want to practice, go into the conversation with the steps below in the back of your mind. Make sure to keep your cool.

Don’t: respond immediately

Make sure not to start defending yourself and explain your point of view. Giving more background or providing the reasons for your choice do not help. This is perfectly natural and logical for you to do, but it will not help. The person providing the criticism will definitely not change his or her mind because of the arguments you’re providing.

Do #1: Listen to the criticizer

When receiving the criticism, first take a few breaths and count to 10. Do not respond immediately and try to listen very well to what the other person has to say. An emotional reaction will not help, as it will only make you feel worse afterwards. If the criticizer is disrespectful and high in his/her emotions, it is better to exit the situation and come back to the topic later.

Do #2: check if you understood the criticizer

When you’ve listened to the criticism, make sure to ask questions about the details of the criticism. What exactly did you do wrong? How bad was it? Maybe the issue is not that big in the eyes of the criticizer. How can you do better? And also: are there more people who agree?

This way, you may get additional valuable information that you otherwise would not have.

Do #3: Thank the criticizer

If you can muster the courage and if it is heartfelt (even if receiving criticism is never nice), say thank you to the person providing the feedback. Also say that you will think about the feedback. That way you show that you are taking the advice from the other person to heart. However, you don’t have to agree with that person at this stage. Afterwards you can decide for yourself what you will work on and what not.


Be kind to yourself

When you’ve received criticism, make sure to be kind to yourself. It is a normal response to start doubting yourself, but this is not helpful and will not make you feel any better. Just let it sink in. Once you’ve done that, see if you want to do something with the criticism or not. What also helps is to practice mindfulness. Also read the post below if you’re interested.

This was the post for this week. Let me know in the comments what you think and what your experiences are.  Also hit the like and share button on your way out and I’ll see you back here next week.

Further reads:


  1. Great article Martin, comes in at the right time with summer yearly assessments. Most points also work for neutral or positive feedback ie show gratitude for the feedback.

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