Copyright © 2017 by Grant Andrews
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Being criticized is a common occurrence for most people. Others are looking at the things you’re doing, and they’re able to notice faults, real or imagined, often a lot quicker than you’re able to.
When you’re doing research, or writing an essay or thesis, you’ll have to deal with a lot more criticism than most people.
Your friends and family will weigh in with their opinions on your work. Your supervisor or professor will respond to your drafts with feedback that might sting. And when you get graded on your work, present it at a conference, or you have to face a panel to defend your thesis, it’s often extremely difficult to find something constructive in the feedback you get.
Developing thick skin is a part of being a successful academic. In this short guide, we’ll give you all of the information you need to deal with criticism effectively and to use it to improve your work. We’ll look at why people criticize others, and how to recognize the way that criticism affects you. We’ll discuss what you can learn from criticism, and speak about strategies to deal with criticism in a constructive way.
If you struggle with your emotional wellbeing and face a lot of stress about criticism, remember that you can also consult the experts at the Academic Coaching website: . We offer academic counseling and will coach you through incorporating feedback on your work.
You can also test your mental health level in our academic and thesis readiness quiz, along with your other academic strengths and challenges. You’ll get a free report that scores your thesis readiness. Go to .
For now, let’s look at how criticism affects you.
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, people will have their opinions about you and about the things that you do. No one is immune to some level of criticism. From the clothes you’re wearing to the way you do your hair, the words you use or where you went on vacation last year, other people are watching you and are ready to tell you exactly what they think.
More often than not, people will share negative evaluations with others, keeping the positive to themselves. They won’t necessarily praise you on a good job every time, but they’ll gladly tell you what you could have done better. You might find this with your family, your friends, your partner or your colleagues at work. You might even have a mean person shout something at you in the street. Every so often we’re receiving feedback from others that there is something bad, wrong, silly, strange, uncomfortable or undesirable about us.
Not all criticism really hurts us in the same way though. The stranger in the street shouting nonsense behind your back might make you uncomfortable, but you won’t fret for days about why he chose to focus his negative attention on you. But if your favorite art teacher from high school sees your latest art exhibition and all she can say is, “…meh,” you might be devastated for life and never pick up a paintbrush again. The source of the criticism really determines what the criticism means to us. If we trust someone’s judgment and we attach great importance to their role in our lives, their criticism will mean a lot more to us.
Criticism also hurts a lot more when we feel it is unfair, as this might trigger a stronger emotional reaction and even the desire to retaliate. If you can really understand why that person is focusing on whatever they’re criticizing, you won’t be as outraged for receiving the criticism. For example, if you didn’t work hard enough on writing a report because you were running late and your professor says it’s not up to scratch, you won’t think that she’s simply being mean or trying to hurt you. However, if you worked for weeks on the report and it was better than anyone else’s report in your class, you might think that she is just being a jerk if she criticizes you heavily over a small detail.
But regardless of the source or the type of criticism, there is at least a little bit of pain attached to the moment when someone paints you or the things you do in a negative light. It hurts to be criticized, for everyone, always. Sometimes only slightly, but other times it can be devastating. We all want to be seen positively by everyone else, and when this doesn’t happen, it’s unpleasant.
Of course, some of us get more criticism than others. There actually is one strategy for minimizing the amount of criticism you’ll receive in your life, even though you can never really avoid it completely. That strategy is to do as little as possible of the things that could attract any attention. Hide away from the world, don’t wear anything that might be too provocative or interesting, don’t say or do anything that might attract attention, and you’ll be pretty safe for the most part. You can skate through life (mostly) criticism-free, and avoid the pain that goes along with it. Unfortunately, you’re then very likely to be criticized for being extremely boring.
But those of us out there who take risks will be criticized the most. If you’re doing your thesis or working on a degree, you’re taking a risk that many others aren’t taking, and they’ll very easily find faults. It makes sense: if you do a lot, there’s a lot more to criticize. If you do a lot of big things, and take a lot of big chances, there’s room for big criticism. And if you pour your heart and soul into the things that you do, there’s more chance of your heart and soul being directly and intensely hurt when someone doesn’t like what you’ve done.
We see the things we do as extensions of us. When someone says to you, “That cake you baked tasted average at best,” when you’d spent six hours the day before preparing it and you pride yourself on your baking skills, you might feel like they are slapping you in the face. You might even want to slap them in the face for saying it. Criticism feels like violence because the person criticizing you is talking negatively about the things that matter to you, and therefore he or she is talking about who you are by extension.
The sad thing is that the only way to really make your life great, adventurous, passionate, exciting and successful is to do the types of things that will get you the most criticism. If you want to be any kind of success in life, you need to learn how to deal with criticism, because the higher you go, the more of it there will be.
You’ll mostly receive criticism in competitive environments. If you are in a highly competitive field, people will expect a lot more from you and might criticize you more. If you do something that makes someone feel threatened in such an environment, they might deliberately criticize you in order to try and get you to stop doing what you’re doing. Janice from your office might tell you that even though the boss praised you so much for your work with your previous client, it was only because he is attracted to you. She’s implying that your work isn’t good enough on its own, and she’s doing it in order to try to get to you.
Lots of people will also react negatively to something when they feel that they are being diminished or disrespected by it. People will have very strong negative responses to things when they feel that it says something negative about them personally. This is important to remember since their criticisms in this category might actually be very important for you to listen to. When they criticize you here, they’re really saying that you made them feel insignificant and that they were hurt. For example, when your brother criticizes you for being too close to your mother and calls you a momma’s boy, he might simply be telling you that he feels jealous of your relationship with your mother.
Jealousy is definitely one of the biggest reasons why people criticize others. All of us are guilty of this. When someone does something that you wish you could have done yourself, you will very easily find the faults with the way they did it. If someone is brave enough to ask out the guy that you wanted to ask out, you might criticize her for stammering over her words when she was talking to him. What you’re really saying is, I wish I could’ve done that scary but rewarding thing that she did.
The main reason why people criticize you, and why there is any criticism to go around in the first place, is that people genuinely see room for improvement and they think that their opinions or suggestions can help you to get there. Some people just genuinely want to help you and point out something that you might have missed. Their advice or criticisms might be annoying or painful, but their intentions are pure and you can learn a lot if you listen to them.
This is the case with your professor or supervisor when they give you feedback on your research. They’ve been academics for years, and they’re trying to help you improve. Even when the criticism seems overly harsh, it’s their way of doing their jobs and preparing you to be a better writer and a stronger researcher.
Remember also that people are emotional, irrational beings. Many of them always want to be right or be better than others. Some of them are simply mean or hurtful and will criticize you or break you down because they find it fun – they have issues that they’re taking out on you. For various reasons, you represent something to them that makes them want to lash out at you for the things you do. For example, I like going on long rants about reality stars, but are they really doing something so wrong that they need my constant criticism? I’m mostly doing it because they represent a vapid consumer culture that makes me upset, but they’re not bad people and they are just trying to run their businesses as best they can.
There are many reasons why people might criticize you. Sometimes it’s about things that really will help you and make you more successful, and you should listen to these when they come your way. Sometimes it’s about ways that you might be hurting them or other people, and you should listen to these too. But a lot of the time, the majority of the time in fact, it’s simply a reflection of their personal issues and no matter what you do, they’ll criticize you. You shouldn’t listen to these.
This is one of the most important lessons you need to learn if you ever want to achieve something worthwhile in life. If you’ve already achieved great things, you probably already know this lesson.
The majority of people out there will be either apathetic or resistant to what you want to do or what you try to offer. Most people simply don’t care about your great new exercise routine that could make them a lot healthier. It’s not your fault, they’re just not interested. Lots of other people have already found an exercise routine that works wonders for them, and they just might not like yours as much. Some of them will tell you this, too. This doesn’t mean that you’re not doing something that is good and worthwhile, it simply means that people are diverse and different and they’re allowed to like different things. Chances are, however, that your exercise routine might be perfect for some other people out there, and despite all the apathy and criticism you faced, if you gave up on your desire to share the routine with others, you’d have missed out on the chance to gain some new fans (and, maybe, a lot of money too). Later on, when you’re rich and famous, a lot of your naysayers will probably want to try out your routine as well.
Many people will not approve of the research you are undertaking or the theories you are proposing. They’ll challenge you at every turn, and find many faults and shortcomings that you would never even have thought of. It’s tempting to listen to everyone and to give up, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the pressure and hate every minute of working on your research. But you need to remember why your research is worthwhile, and what you are trying to achieve.
The disapproval you are receiving does not mean that you are doing something terrible. It simply means that you are doing something different and something that people are not used to.
What is a more accurate way of knowing that you’re doing something worthwhile when you’re faced with a barrage of criticism? If you are really enjoying the work, if it has the potential to make other people think differently or add to your field, or if it could make the lives of others better or fuller in some way, then you’re probably doing something worthwhile. Even if it’s only bringing joy to yourself and making your own life better, it’s worth it. If you can know that this much is true, then none of the criticism can detract from what you’re doing. Even if people think you’re strange and naïve for doing what you do or being who you are, if you know that you can really add value to someone’s life, you shouldn’t let the critics hold you back.
Try and remember that universal approval does not mean that you are successful. The only person who has that much approval is the person who is being exactly what everyone else wants her to be, so she can’t be doing very much with her life at all. If she ever tried anything, she’d have at least a few haters, just like you do.
Real success is feeling like you’re contributing something good to the world, like you’re in control of your own life and your own time, and like you’re really connecting with people and things that matter to you. It doesn’t mean that everyone will like you or approve of what you’re doing.
Even though it might hurt, and even though you might be getting more criticism than you thought was possible, it doesn’t mean that what you are doing is a failure. It doesn’t mean that you should give up just because people don’t like what you’re doing exactly the way you’re doing it.
But if you are consistently getting the same criticism, it might mean that you need to make some adjustments if you want to have greater success.
If the criticism rings true and you see that you’ve made some real mistakes, then you can take those lessons into your next, bigger project. If you had never received the criticism, you would never have known about the potential problems which you had, and you might have made the same mistakes in future on an even larger scale.
One of the best ways to improve is through mistakes. When you do things wrong, you learn from those mistakes and find ways to do it better. When you can make yourself vulnerable enough to criticism and the potential for failure, you can course-correct more and more each time and eventually do things better than you ever have before.
For example, if you simply ask your supervisor how to write up your reference list, and they give you all of the information, you might still not “get” how to do it. Only once you give it a try and make a few mistakes can your supervisor point out those mistakes to you, and you’ll probably never make the same mistakes again. You have to jump in at some point and just do something, even if you feel like you could still do more preparation.
Lots of people delay doing something until they can do it perfectly because they’re afraid of being criticized. They make all kinds of excuses about why it would be better to do something later, when the truth is that they are afraid of taking a chance and putting themselves out there to be judged by others. But by doing this, they’re missing out on countless opportunities to learn from their own mistakes and to learn from the criticism of others. They’re delaying their own success because they’re so afraid of failure.
Go on, make some mistakes! Do things imperfectly! Face the backlash! And then do better the next time.
Being criticized for something means that you put yourself out there. Only by making yourself vulnerable to negative reactions can you do things that will take you to greater success. Only by putting yourself in the position where you might fail, can you ever be in the position where you can really take off.
In fact, the more the criticism hurts, the better it indicates that you are doing something that really matters to you. If someone criticizes something you don’t really care about, you won’t really be affected by their reaction. But because it hurts so much, it shows you that you really want to be better at that particular thing. You love doing it and feel passionate about it. Keep going, push through the pain, and get better and better along the way.
Just like it takes a hammer to knock away dents in your car, or sandpaper to smooth the edges of wood, it sometimes takes painful criticism to improve your projects or to make you a better person.
Humility is one of the best measures of someone who is primed for success. You have to be confident in what you do, but you also need to remember that you don’t know it all. You’re just another imperfect person, like everyone else, who is doing his or her best to lead a successful life.
Accept your own flaws, especially if you constantly find yourself being derailed by criticism. If every critical remark sends you into an emotional tailspin and hurts you severely, you might have some underlying conflicts that you need to work on. Maybe there are parts of yourself that you are not comfortable with or don’t like that much, and when people criticize you it reminds you of this. Maybe you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities to take on the negativity of others.
A good way to work through this is to be aware and to embrace both your strengths and your weaknesses. All of us have both strengths and weaknesses. Make a long list for yourself of all of the things that you know you’re good at, and that no one can take away from you. And then make a long list of things that you know you struggle with and that you’re working on, and that you might expect some criticism for. Then, when the criticism comes, you can compare it to your list. If someone is criticizing something you know you are strong at, you can be fairly sure that a lot of the time the criticism will be inaccurate, and that it’s not useful to you. But if the criticism is linked to one of your weaknesses, you can see it as a reminder that you have room to grow and parts of yourself that you need to work on. You can also take a quiz to find out your academic strengths and challenges at the Academic Coaching website: .
Personally, I know that my writing is one of my strengths. One of my weaknesses is that I’m disorganized and scatterbrained. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses helps me to find the best strategies so that I can use my strengths for doing well in projects and also find the help of others to overcome my weaknesses. I know what I need to work on, so if I am criticized for it, I can just say to people: “Thanks for your feedback. I’m working on it!”
Criticism can be a great source of information. Other people often have more distance from you and from your projects, so they can spot any current or potential problems a lot better than you can. Because you spend a lot of your time focused on your projects, you might not see the whole picture as clearly as others can. You can get a lot of good feedback if you can look past the initial sting of criticism and accept that others also have valid and valuable opinions.
But overall, you need to remember that you are better than any of your critics make you out to be. You’re more than simply the comments of people who try to tear you down. You are not defined by a single piece of criticism. This is especially true when people criticize your character, your appearance or your abilities. You might be imperfect (we all are), but that one aspect that they find fault with is not the only thing that you are.
Remind yourself often that you’re worth more than any single part of you. Some people find value in looking in the mirror and noticing the good things they see, and then saying it out loud. Or putting up a reminder of one or more of your positive traits, like a sign that says, “I am an excellent baker,” might remind you that you’ve got lots of good characteristics despite your mistakes and flaws.
Regardless of all the negative things other people might point out, you need to have a balanced view of yourself as a person with lots of dimensions. Even though it hurts when someone gives you negative feedback, you need to remember that this is only one moment, only one person’s perspective, and your life is much bigger than this.
If your intentions with a particular project are noble, then you will know that the criticism can’t diminish what you are doing and why you’re doing it. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are doing what you’re doing, and you’ll be able to deal with criticism better when it comes.
Despite all of the perspective you might have gained so far about why criticism can be a good thing and why it always goes hand in hand with taking more risks and being a go-getter in life, it still hurts. There are some strategies which can help you to deal with criticism in a way where it doesn’t cause you to be completely overwhelmed or make you give up on yourself or your projects.
Many people have come within only a few steps of success, so close they could taste it, but they felt like the criticism was too much and gave up on their dreams. If they had pushed forward a little bit longer, weathered the storm a little bit more, they would’ve seen that there was something wonderful on the other side.
If you can learn to deal with criticism effectively, you can use it as a tool to take you to your success instead of allowing it to derail you from getting to where you want to be in life.
Below are some strategies you can use to deal with criticism.
Oftentimes, our perspective clouds our judgment and we’re unable to see that the person was not trying to hurt us at all by their criticism. They might have been giving us some information because they wanted us to consider another angle of ourselves or of our projects. You could be missing out on valuable, constructive information which might help you to grow or be better at what you do.
It’s important not to be defensive when criticism comes. Don’t immediately try and find excuses or try and turn it around on the person criticizing you by finding fault with them as well. Retaliation only turns it into a war instead of something constructive, which it might have been intended as.
Sometimes, we hear feedback as sounding too mean or sounding condescending, and we might have an emotional reaction because our ego is hurt. We ignore the words and all we hear is the tone. This is a way of blocking the channels of communication and of missing a potentially valuable message.
What you should do when you receive criticism, or when you just feel criticized, is to try and firstly give the person the benefit of the doubt. Always imagine at first that they are saying it because they genuinely want to help you. This might not always be the case, but often it is, and we simply react emotionally when it’s unwarranted.
Try to hear if there is an honest, valuable message you could be getting from the criticism. Hear it for what it is, and tune out the feelings of embarrassment, inferiority or disappointment which you might be feeling initially. If there’s really something in there, and if kind, sincere criticism is being offered, always remember to say thank you. The person has helped you to be better, and when you’re successful one day, they played a small part in it. Tell the person that you appreciate the fact that they want to help you and you recognize it as a way that they are showing you how much they care about your success.
If there’s really nothing constructive to be gained from the criticism, move on to some of the next steps instead in order to ignore the person or tell them they’re not helping you at all.
It might be useful for you to tell the person how their criticism comes across. If it is not helpful to you, and if it feels overly hurtful or mean-spirited, tell them that their words might not have had the effect that they were aiming for. If they’ll listen to you, explain to them why the message was poorly received.
In the case of feedback from your supervisor, you might explain to them that you’ve received the criticism as too harsh for it to be constructive. You might just prompt them to change their approach and look at the types of comments they’re giving you. If the problem is truly with the style of feedback, this might help to improve your relationship with your supervisor, especially if they’re unaware that they can be brutal with their criticism.
Most people who are only out to hurt you won’t want to listen to this, or might laugh it off. That’s a good sign to steer clear of that person in future, because being around them doesn’t benefit you at all and they’re not hanging out with you in order to make your life better. But other people might be genuinely surprised that their words hurt you, and you might be offering them a way to be better communicators as well.
Having low self-esteem can be a major factor in why criticism hurts some more than others. If you don’t really believe in yourself and know your own worth, it will be easy for other people to tear you down and make you feel worthless.
No one else will believe in you or believe in the things you do if you don’t show them that you already have confidence. It will be a lot harder to convince someone to invest in your new design project if it’s obvious that you don’t really believe in your ability to complete it. It will be tough to get people to support you if you give them the impression that you’re not very good at what you do.
There are some detailed resources for building confidence and gaining motivation at the Academic Coaching website. For now, let’s look at some areas you could work on.
You need to become your own biggest supporter before you can expect the support of others. Be who you are and do what you do with confidence. That way it’s easier for others to be confident in you too.
This confidence comes with accepting yourself just as you are, with all of your flaws. When you can say, “I’m not the best at singing, but it doesn’t matter because I love doing it anyway,” no one can take that away from you with their criticism.
Confidence can be strengthened with affirmations. You can remind yourself about the good things in your life. You can do this by displaying your awards, diplomas, trophies or certificates on a wall or a display case, or putting pictures up of yourself where you really think you look and feel your best. These reminders will give you visual proof of how awesome you are. If you’ve done great things and been a successful person before, those accomplishments will stay with you forever. You can remember that you are that same person right now as the person who achieved those things in the past, and you can do even more amazing things in your future as you continue to grow and learn in life.
Boosting your confidence could include putting up a positive quote on the wall in your kitchen or bedroom where you’ll see it every day. You could design your own quote that makes you feel good and motivated, and that reminds you that you have limitless potential despite your challenges in life. You could also try and find a quote that helps you to steel yourself against criticism. A good place to start is the excellent quote by Theodore Roosevelt from his speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910. The excerpt is referred to as “The Man in the Arena”. It can remind you that critics will always be around but they shouldn’t stop you from doing great things with your life:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Remind yourself often that you’re worthy of success, and give yourself the praise for being daring and brave enough to go after your dreams. The more you start to believe it yourself, the more you’ll radiate success and other people will believe it too. It’ll be easier to take actions that bring you closer to success when you already believe that you’re good enough to get there. No amount of criticism can bring you down if you know your own worth.
If you’ve been criticized, it’s easy sometimes to make excuses for why you made the mistake that you made, or to try and find all sorts of reasons why the person might have offered their criticism. Maybe the weather was bad and it made your friend moody, so they found fault with your singing technique. Maybe you’d just had a late night or had not warmed up your voice enough. There are lots of reasons why the criticism might be misguided or might not be useful to you. These excuses might be valid, but if you rely on them every time you’re being criticized, you’ll definitely be missing some valuable feedback.
If the criticism really is valid, you should be able to look past your feelings and try and learn something from it.
Of course, this is not as easy as it sounds. How do you simply ignore the fact that it feels like someone punched you in the gut?
A good strategy is to take it slowly before you react to the criticism. Give your brain and your body some time to process what is happening. Take a beat and take a deep breath. You might feel strange if there is a sudden silence while you collect your thoughts. You might not want the person who criticized you to know that they hurt you, and the deep breath might be giving it away. But it’s better to react consciously than to just react instinctively. Rather than retaliate, take a second to be in the moment, to be hurt, and then to try and look past it at what the person is actually trying to say to you.
This way, you won’t retaliate when it’s not necessary to do so. You won’t dismiss the advice or information which someone is offering you simply because it hurt to hear it.
The best way to deal with an emotional reaction is to really be conscious and aware of the emotion. Think to yourself, “I’ve been hurt by that criticism. It hurts to hear what this person just said to me, because it makes me feel embarrassed. But is there anything I can gain from their message?”
If you can’t immediately move past your emotional reaction in order to respond to your critic, you can just tell him or her: “I’ll have to think about what you said. I’m not really sure how I can use your feedback just yet to improve myself or improve my work. Once I’ve thought about it a bit more, I’ll tell you what I think.”
Even by saying this, you’re not immediately being defensive or dismissive, but rather giving yourself time to work through your emotions and then respond to the criticism. That way, you can evaluate whether you should really be listening to it at all.
You can usually tell when criticism is false. When you know that the person criticizing you has no real investment in seeing you improve, and might enjoy it if you gave up, you can be pretty sure that the criticism is not meant to help you. If they say something that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation at all, it’s not worth listening to them. If they’re criticizing you only to put you down or to make themselves feel better, they’re not contributing to your life in a positive way.
The best thing to do in the face of such criticism is to ignore it completely. Just remind yourself: “listening to this person right now will not improve my life at all, and will only bring me down.” Then do your best to dust it off and move as far away from that person as possible.
You do need to remember, again, that you shouldn’t use your emotions to measure whether or not to listen to criticism. Sometimes the truth hurts much more than a lie. Try and see whether the criticism is really false, and if so, ignore it.
You also shouldn’t listen to criticism about things you can’t control. If someone criticizes something about your body, your mannerisms or your race, sexuality or gender, their words have nothing to do with you and rather with their own prejudices or insecurities. Even though these words might hurt a lot, you need to find ways to love these parts of yourself and not allow the issues of someone else to make you feel like less of a person. Try and find positive role models who are similar to you. If you have big ears that you’re embarrassed of, find a great person who is living their dreams who also has big ears. Notice that they didn’t let their ears hold them back from being who they are and doing what they love. This is a silly example, but you should try and apply the principle to anything that you might not be fully comfortable with about yourself.
None of these factors ultimately determine who you are. If it’s something you can’t control, you should ignore any criticism of it or comments about it. If the situation calls for it and it feels appropriate, call the person out on their meanness or prejudices. Tell them that you love that particular part of yourself and that it is a valuable and important part of who you are. If it’s not the right time to do that, simply walk away and remember what you’re really worth.
It’s just not worth it listening to or engaging with someone who is deliberately trying to hurt you or bring you down. You deserve to get the same respect that you show to others, so when someone disrespects you, demand their respect before you engage with them any further, or just walk away. You don’t have to waste your time on negative people.
The people that you surround yourself with will greatly impact on the person you will become. If you constantly allow people to tear you down, you are very unlikely to succeed. If you keep these people around and let them disrespect you constantly, you’ll be showing yourself disrespect as well. Your self-worth will plummet and you won’t have any confidence that you can do great things with your life. Disrespectful people are simply not worth keeping around.
A good measure of this is how you feel in someone’s company. If you feel uncomfortable, unhappy, judged, small and pathetic around them all the time, they’re probably not showing you the respect you deserve. If you feel like it’s impossible to please someone, it usually is – they’ll never be satisfied with anything you do, so why even try?
However, if you have someone in your life who really respects you and who values you, and criticizes you because they want to see good things in your life, this is the kind of person you need to be listening to and keeping around. These people will help you to really know where you’re making mistakes, but will still celebrate your victories with you as well. These people bring positivity into your life, and they’re willing to criticize you out of a genuine desire to see you grow. If you don’t already have people like this in your life, go out and meet some. You could try any kinds of hobby groups – these people are usually trying to constantly improve themselves, so they’ll be attracted to places where they can do this. Hiking, art, writing, personal growth and leadership groups would be good places to start looking.
Whenever you feel disrespected by some criticism you receive, you could tell that person that what they said felt very disrespectful, give them the reasons why, and tell them that you’re much more likely to listen to them if they treat you with respect. Often, this will show these people that you’re not willing to be treated like garbage, and either they’ll start treating you better or find a new target to disrespect.
If you’ve really been hurt by a piece of criticism, it might be a good starting point to question yourself about why it hurt you so much. The best way I’ve found of doing this is to journal about the experience.
Journaling can be very cathartic, allowing you to put all of the emotions onto a piece of paper and get the negative energy moving instead of simply keeping it inside. Lots of people immediately feel a sense of relief after writing about an experience. Even though it still stings, you can start to really process those emotions when you write them down.
Some people even find value in writing a letter to the person who has hurt them, explaining exactly why the experience was hurtful. Whether you deliver this letter or not, the process of writing will give you a sense of clarity and some emotional relief.
Journaling can also give you the chance to gain some perspective – when you actually take the time to write something down, you can see that maybe it was not quite as deliberately hurtful as you imagined it to be. You might be able to see that the person was actually offering you valuable criticism.
Journaling is a good habit to maintain if you need more clarity on your emotions. It can help you to reflect on your life and get to know yourself better. When you feel criticized, journaling might be a good way to diffuse your own anger or frustration.
When you’re hurt, it’s often hard to see the moment in perspective. It was just one person’s opinion. It doesn’t mean that you’re really a bad person, or that what you’re doing is terrible or not worthwhile. You need to try and see the incident in perspective in order to realize that it really doesn’t matter all that much in the grander scheme of things. This isn’t meant to diminish your feelings – your feelings are valid and you should be allowed to have them and process them. But gaining perspective will help you to stick to what you need to be doing despite the momentary pain you might be experiencing.
You are bigger than a particular emotional reaction, and the work you are here to do is bigger than what one person thinks of it. If you let someone make you feel so bad over one comment, you’ll have many more struggles when you take on even more in your life and the criticism comes more frequently and more aggressively.
Of course, this doesn’t count when someone routinely and persistently criticizes you and brings you down. This is a big deal, and you need to take some actions to stop this person from making you feel the way they make you feel.
But for the everyday criticism you encounter, remember that it won’t really matter when all’s said and done. You’re doing what you love, you’re going after your goals, and if other people have a problem with that, there’s nothing you can do to change that. See it as just another small bump on your road to success. Chances are, in a few weeks, you’ll hardly even remember the moment of criticism, and the pain will disappear. Your life is much bigger than the nasty words of one person.
You might find yourself saying, “People just don’t understand what I’m trying to do, and that’s why they’re criticizing me”. Well, if almost everyone doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do, maybe you should change the way you’re doing it so that people can sign on. Maybe you should make your message or your work a bit more accessible so that others can really invest in it and believe in it the way you do.
It doesn’t make you a sellout to listen to some feedback once in a while. Remember that the work you’re doing also affects other people, and in order to make it really have a positive impact on their lives, you need to listen to what they’re saying.
If the criticism is about something you can control, and it’s about a project that you’d like to see other people get excited about as well, then listen to how you can make it work for them. This is one of the best ways to have a greater reach with any project you undertake. Being open to feedback and realizing you’ve made a mistake will allow you to not only build stronger bonds with people by showing that you’re really listening to them, but also allow you to improve on yourself and the work you do.
This is not to say that you should give up your integrity. Sometimes the greatest accomplishments were very strange to the world at first. Some of the greatest thinkers were persecuted for their ideas, not because the ideas were bad or wrong, but just because they made people uncomfortable. Galileo was sentence to life in prison for claiming that the Earth was not the center of the Universe and instead revolved around the Sun. If he had balked and given up on his work, where would science be today?
Maintain your integrity, but also listen to the messages that are repeatedly coming from other people. Experiment and don’t be too sacred or precious about keeping things exactly the way they are. Sometimes a small adjustment is enough to really take you to the next level.
No matter how much we rationalize the criticism and understand what it means, it still sucks.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to give in to the feelings you’re feeling. You might be sad that someone said something mean or judgmental to you. You might be disappointed that things did not work out the way you wanted. You might be embarrassed that your project had flaws and someone pointed it out to you. Or you might be even more insecure and feel like you were silly to even try to do something in the first place.
All of these feelings are valid, and you should allow yourself to feel them. But don’t let them distract you from doing what you want to do and being who you are.
You could have a good, cathartic crying session, and just feel miserable for a while. You could buy yourself a tub of ice-cream after you read a one-star review of your book. You could push your face into a pillow and just shout for a while. Do whatever you need to do to acknowledge your feelings in the moment.
This could help you to feel a lot better a lot sooner. If you really allow yourself to feel everything that you’re feeling, you could process the feelings much better and then be ready to get back on the horse. If you simply tried to ignore the feelings, they might still be lingering beneath the surface and catch up with you eventually if you’re ever criticized again. Not acknowledging your feelings of pain or disappointment could lead you to never gain real confidence in your abilities or stand up for yourself if someone is bullying you. Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, and allow yourself to feel it for a while.
Then, when you’re ready, get back on the horse. Go back to square one and continue doing what you do and being who you are. Sometimes, success comes after only a few months of struggle and failure, but for most of us, it will take years of perseverance in the face of a lot of criticism. Feel bad about the criticism for a short while, but then keep on going. You’ll be grateful that you did in the long run.
When you can shift the way you understand criticism and start to deal with it better, you can use it to make your life better. The key is to take as much good from it as you can when it’s really valid criticism. Developing thick skin is not about blocking yourself off from the pain that you will naturally experience, but rather it’s about opening yourself up to the full experience. You’re doing things that make you vulnerable to criticism, and being honest about who you are in a way that might make people want to bring you down. But along with the hurtful criticism you will inevitably receive, there’s also a lot of truly great things that go along with this kind of life.
Below are a few final things to remember about criticism which can help you use it to make your life better.
Constructive criticism really can make you a better person, and if you can learn from it, it can be a major asset. Most people who attain success worked on feedback from others in order to reach the heights that they achieved in life. But they also learned to ignore those people who were not trying to offer constructive criticism and instead just wanted to bring them down.
If you’ve decided that the criticism is valid and it really was meant to help you, then incorporate the criticism into an action plan. Think about the criticism afterwards and reflect on what exactly you can do to make sure that you do better next time. Look at the information that is being offered by the person criticizing you, and decide on the best way you can address it.
If someone tells you that they were bored with the speech you gave, maybe you could try including jokes or interesting stories the next time you give a speech. This person might be helping you a lot to become a better speaker in future, despite their harsh remark.
You could also specifically ask someone who is criticizing you what their suggestions are for improvement. Usually, if they’re willing to tell you what your mistakes are, they’ll have some ideas about how you can improve. Often, these suggestions can be very useful. For example, if the speech you gave was in front of high school students, and they told you that they found it boring, maybe they’ll suggest that you include references to celebrities or popular culture. When people give you a way to make them feel included in your work, do your best to incorporate those ideas into your projects. They’ll notice your efforts and you could win their support.
You can remember in these moments that not only are we all imperfect, but no one even really expects you to be perfect. They just expect you to improve where you can and to strive for excellence.
Your boss will be much less impressed with you if you do an okay job but never improve, than if you start off doing less than okay but show him that you’re constantly learning from your mistakes. Adopt the attitude of being a lifelong learner. Take as much as you can from other people, and use it to make yourself better.
Don’t try and hide the fact that you might have made a mistake or pretend like it didn’t happen. Taking responsibility for making a mistake will count in your favor in the long run. It will show people that you have integrity and that you can be honest even when you might be slightly embarrassed. It will also demonstrate that you’re confident in yourself and in what you are trying to achieve. So confident, in fact, that you can take the criticism as useful feedback, rather than being distraught about it.
When people honestly admit that they’ve made a mistake, it immediately creates more trust in others. People see you as genuine and straightforward. They know that you can stand up for yourself and that you probably won’t make the same mistake again since you’ve shown that you are learning from it.
This level of honesty also makes you relatable to other people. They’ll see you as human; you make mistakes, just like everyone else, and you’re humble enough to admit to these mistakes. People could grow to trust you better because of this and might want to support you more in the future.
You shouldn’t be ashamed of making mistakes – all of us make them. But very few of us are brave enough to admit to them and publicly resolve to learn from them.
Once you’ve learned to deal with criticism well, you will see how useful it really can be to you. You’ll start to really value respectful, honest criticism, and you’ll be able to incorporate it into your work.
When you reach this point, you could even try to ask for criticism from people you trust so that you can correct any problems before launching a project. You should be asking for criticism from people who really want to see you succeed. The feedback they give you will be invaluable.
You could even try approaching experts in whichever field you’d like to improve in. You’d be surprised how often people are willing to help others, even if they’re already very busy. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say, “no,” in which case you try another strategy.
Soliciting feedback could be as simple as asking your friend who is very fashionable what he thinks of your new outfit or what he would suggest you wear to a certain party. It could include asking your friend who is good at swimming to give her feedback on your technique so that you can be a better swimmer.
Those people who really want to be better, in every way, will be constantly relying on others to help them get there. Even when the feedback hurts sometimes, these people realize that they don’t know it all, and that they need other people to make them better.
This is something I had to realize as an English lecturer. I would do my best to be informative and clear with students when I gave them feedback, and then they would suddenly drop my course. I had to adjust my technique.
People want to feel supported and feel positive about an experience more than they want to hear what they did wrong. If you can do both things at the same time, you’ll deliver effective feedback and not scare people away.
Work on being just as respectful and direct with other people as you’d like them to be with you. Just like you have your flaws in certain spheres, you’re also much better than most people in some things. When people ask you for your feedback, try and give it in a way that really helps them and doesn’t make them feel bad about themselves.
Ultimately, if you want to be everything you can be, you should never try to avoid criticism completely. Embrace the fact that you’re that tall tree getting a lot of wind, but remember that it only makes you stronger. See what you can learn, ignore the useless negativity, and remember that you’re not perfect and you’ll make mistakes.
I hope that a few of the ideas and strategies offered in this guide can help you to deal with the criticism in your life better. I mostly hope that you continue to dare greatly and to go for what you want regardless of what other people say. Your dreams are worth it.
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Grant and Malan
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A Guide for Dealing with Criticism on Your Work and Projects This short guide gives you tools to deal with criticism. It's primarily tailored to those writing a thesis or research essay, which is a time when you'll face a lot of criticism that could derail your progress. However, the advice can also be applied to those starting a new business, working towards a goal or going after their dreams. Whether you're writing an essay or a master's or doctoral thesis, this guide will be useful for making sure that you start your journey of academic writing on the right foot. You'll be able to master the skill in just over 30 minutes. The guide is written by Dr. Grant Andrews, who has been teaching academic writing for years, and who knows the common pitfalls that students experience in academic writing.