Handling Criticism

Criticism sounds to be a negative word but normally we do not realize its importance in our lives, whether it be personal or professional. It can be both constructive as well as destructive, it largely depends on the way it is communicated and where it is coming from.Criticism
Criticism can either generate positive result (s) by communicating it in a constructive manner by criticizing the work and not the person, or it can also yield an undesirable outcome by hampering one’s self confidence completely. Therefore, criticizing one’s performance and acknowledging it with grace is not something which everyone can do professionally and positively.
Usually, the person criticizing one’s work/action takes it to a personal level and starts a confrontation which is never positive, rather it creates rigidity on the part of the receiver being criticized, resulting in denial of one’s mistakes/blunders which can never lead to corrective measures.
Kindly give your suggestions on how criticism can be ‘conveyed’ and ‘acknowledged’ positively and professionally at work or otherwise to achieve superior results. Furthermore, kindly share your experiences on how you handle/deal with it.


  • Jeff Swanson

    Offering criticism is an important part of leading and should be used to positively improve results in the present and in the future. Explain how you prefer things to be handled in this or similar situations, and of course why.
    Much criticism can be avoided if expectations are properly explained at the beginning of the project, and with proper periodic review and follow up. Give a “great” description of what the end product should look like.

  • Salima, great question and opportunity-
    Criticism in its very nature is usually conveyed in a negative tone. Why? Because we are so used to it being a negative thing. We need to have a paradigm shift with what criticism is and what its purpose is. At the risk of playing with words, I’ll offer this thought on how to convey criticism in a productive positive way. Remember that no matter what we do and how we do it, the recipient always has the discretion of hearing what they choose to hear.
    I learned this technique from a friend of mine who used to ask my permission to give me some feedback on what they had observed or what I had said. She first built a relationship of trust with me and I always knew that she was my friend and colleague and she intended to help me and support me in all I did, even if we disagreed in areas.
    She always asked me if she could offer me some outside views of what was observed and would always tell me that it was a subjective observation from her point of view. She even told me a time or two that I might not like it and that I had the right to let her know that I disagreed or that I didn’t like it. Of course it never got there because we had built a relationship of trust and I believed that she wasn’t “out to get me”
    She would use language like,
    “Can I offer some feedback to you”?
    “Here is what I liked about what you did….”
    “Next time you might try….”
    “How do you feel that went”?
    “If you had to do it over again what would you do different and why”?
    This is all language that we’ve heard before, but its goal is very simply to put both the sender and receive at ease, and also to open an agreed upon dialogue rather than a forced upon dialogue.
    Again, this is all dependent on the recieve choosing to accept the criticism. Even the most well intentioned and perfectly worded feedback can be rejected and misunderstood if the receiver is too sensative or the timing isn’t right.
    When Criticism is recieved by someone who has the emotional and mental maturity to understand what is happening, it is incumbent on them to make a decision of how they will recieve it. Ask yourself (if you are on the receiving end), what is the senders goal? Is it to hurt, offend, build, educate, etc….
    No matter what the goal is a truely professional person will accept it and thank the sender for the feedback. If they disagree, they can use phrases such as,
    “I understand what your saying, I disagree with xyz, but again I understand what your saying”
    “I apprecaite what your telling me and I’ll use this feedback in the future”
    “Thank you, can you elaborate on this one point or this one statement”?
    This allows the sender to walk away with their action acknowledged and processed and sometimes even allows them to correct their purpose if needed.
    I hope this answer gives you some ideas to work with.

  • I’m quite partial to the ‘compliment sandwich’ –
    “I’ve been more than happy with your sales performance but I wanted to make sure you’re aware of how important completing your ‘Weekly Estimated Net Usage Statistics’ are so that we can make sure you’re doing as well as possible. Keep up the good work!

  • 1. Know yourself—This is a reality issue.
    2. Change yourself—This is a responsibility issue.
    3. Accept yourself—This is a maturity issue.
    4. Forget yourself—This is a security issue.
    1: Know Yourself
    Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.” Early in my career, I wanted to make everybody happy. It took me a couple of years to realize that if I was going to lead, there would be tough decisions that were going to make some people upset. I asked myself: Do I want to make people happy or do I really want to lead? I understood clearly that I had to begin to know who I was.
    Over the years, people have tried to help me know myself. They often begin with the phrase, “I’m going to tell you something for your own good.” I’ve discovered that when they tell me something for my own good they never seem to have anything good to tell me! Yet, it’s these conversations that have helped me learn much about myself, including many weaknesses. I have realized that what I need to hear most is what I want to hear the least. And some of the best people who ever entered my life to teach me something were my critics, not my friends.
    2: Change Yourself
    In the process of handling criticism effectively, you not only need to know yourself but you have to change yourself. Aldous Huxley said, “The truth that makes you free is, for the most part, the truth we would prefer not to hear.” The John Maxwell translation of this is simple: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.
    Here are the questions I ask myself to determine whether criticism is constructive or destructive.
    Who criticized me? Adverse criticism from a wise person is more desirable than the enthusiastic approval of a fool.
    How was it given? Were the words judgmental or did they give me the benefit of the doubt? In other words, what was the spirit in which the criticism was given?
    Why was it given? Was it given to inflict a personal hurt or for my benefit?
    Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, had many critics in spite of his grand accomplishments. He once made this interesting observation: “People will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing is really not important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and what you are doing is very important. But after all, they knew it all the time.”
    Regardless whether the criticism was legitimate or not, I have discovered that my attitude toward words I do not want to hear determines whether I grow from them or groan beneath them. Therefore, I have determined to not be defensive when criticized, to look for the grain of truth, make the necessary changes and take the high road.
    3: Accept Yourself
    I saved the following quote from “Dear Abby” a few years ago because I love her definition of maturity. She says, “Maturity is the ability to stick with the job until it’s finished, the ability to do the job without being supervised, the ability to carry money without spending it, and the ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.”
    Maturity also enables you to accept yourself, which is the fi rst step in becoming a better person. Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
    Leo Buscaglia counseled, “The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be.” If you worry about what people think of you, it’s because you have more confidence in their opinion than you have in your own. Judith Bardwick said, “Real confidence comes from knowing and accepting yourself—your strengths and limitations— in contrast to depending on affirmation from others.”
    4: Forget Yourself
    While we are growing up, a lot of us spend a good deal of time worrying about what the world thinks of us. By the time we reach 60, we realize the world wasn’t paying much attention. Secure people forget themselves so they can focus on others. This allows us to be secure enough to take criticism and even serve the critic.
    Secure people know who they are. They know they make mistakes and have weaknesses, but they don’t have to lower themselves to the level of what is being said about them. Secure people don’t have to defend themselves. And those who have reached this fourth stage also find it easy to laugh at themselves.
    One of my favorite Chinese proverbs says, “Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves. They shall never cease to be entertained.” For years, I have laughed at myself because I’ve done some very foolish things. I even learned to laugh about a heart attack I had 10 years ago.
    During my recovery time, I decided I would spend a day reflecting on what would’ve happened if I had died. What would my funeral service be like? How many people would show up? As everyone knows, the size of the crowd the day they bury you will be dependent on the weather. Next, what do they do after they put you in the ground? Yes, 30 minutes after you are buried, the biggest question on the minds of your family and friends is how to get to the community center the fastest to make sure they get some potato salad.
    When it comes to criticism, it’s important to first understand that half of the stuff people say about you is true. So just take inventory, suck it up and change. And the other half they say about you is not—they are just revealing issues in their own lives. If you know yourself, you will know what you are good at and what you are not. Start changing the things that are real and forget yourself so that you can focus on others. Because the criticism will never stop. If you are able to get to this fourth stage, criticism won’t have a negative effect in your life. And that’s a big lesson I had to learn that has helped me as a leader, and I hope it helps you, too. “If you’re getting kicked in the rear, it means you’re out front.”

  • There is only one way to handle constructive criticism and that is appreciation for the concerns your friends, colleagues or others raise. Criticism is an opportunity to look at you and question your actions, behaviour or decisions. At the end of the day criticism is a difference in opinion (a different point of view) on how something should be executed or how somebody should behave when executing. See criticism as the guide dog for the blind!
    If criticism is not constructive than you need to just stick to the facts. The criticism will turn quickly into embarrassment.
    And don’t forget we criticise based on the information and understanding we have. Are we both on the same knowledge base?

  • I believe criticism can be positive or negative, depending on the state of consciousness.
    If the person who is espressing criticism is doing it as a projection of their own shadow/ego – which is also a way of saying that what bothers us in another person is always in us in some form – then criticism will not be constructive and will create negativity.
    If the person espressing criticism is doing it in a positive state, which simply means loving, then criticism will be constructive; and if we are loving, the person receiving criticism will feel it and will be more open to our suggestions.
    So to me the key to successful criticism is to keep working on our shadow and be loving.

  • Hi Salima
    Constructive Criticism is good, and is normally accepted by the party in a positive attitude. The negative forms of criticism are normally taken in an arrogant way, and there would be some kind of retaliation to accept this, if at all. In very few cases the negative criticism, is accepted by the parties, who go under this, and come up to prove the others wrong. This also, though getting some fantastic results, is also a kind of rebelling to prove you wrong.
    Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is needed at all levels for people to perform better, see their mistakes, correct them, and proceed towards their targets in a more positive way. Call it mentoring or an appraisal, if the criticism is handled in a professional way, it does get the desired results.
    To deliver the criticism, as pointed out above, the level of understanding plays an important role. The authority, the relationship, the experience and the ultimate good intentions are what the people see, when they are criticized.
    If these are being delivered by someone who has no authority, or no reason for them to criticize, then the person either discounts this 100%, or goes into the retaliation mode.
    Same goes when the person does not have the experience, nor has any good intention, but yet criticizes just to establish his professionalism.
    In a similar manner, people who themselves have refined certain areas recently, either by realization or on account of being criticized, got to be extra careful. Changing to the role of a priest after committing the sins, is ok, but they got to remember that the audience is matured enough to remember the past. This critic has to take extra care on the tone and style they use to deliver the criticism. Some things are not easily forgotten in a quick way.
    Criticism has to be in areas which really matter, and which need corrections. Unfortunately, some of the seniors or the professionals think they can just about criticize anything or everything. They loose their value, and people would stop listening or respecting their views or criticism. And when these people criticize in areas of importance, they are hardly acknowledged.
    The venue, or the gathering, and the topic – all have to be taken into consideration.
    A person who is willing to acknowledge the mistakes or corrections would also go into the defensive if the setting and the gathering is not appropriate.
    I had read somewhere about a method called a Hamburger type of criticism – where criticism is slipped in between two layers of praises, where in the person gets the taste of criticism, but the praises block out the bitter taste that follows.

  • Criticize like a coach because Positive criticism generets positive results. But criticize act not person.

  • Each of us should take criticism as a way to improve our businesses by getting rid of what doesn’t work and concentrating on what does work…

  • Salima,
    Most people will tell you to take it ‘positively’, advise you on how to handle it, not to worry about it too much, and things like that.
    I feel one should take criticism personally, as a black stain ona white cotton tee shirt, every time, because it is for you, not anyone else. One should feel humiliated (inside, not apparently) whenever someone criticizes them. Don’t act up on it, but don’t take it lightly inside either. Correct yourself, and make sure that people don’t get the chance to criticize you again .
    If we don’t take it personally, we wont take it seriously either. Criticism, much like failure, teaches you more than success itself, and the first thing one needs to learn, is to accept it as a source of negativity on your profile, and correct oneself instead of denying its existence, as in case of failure.
    I don’t get a lot of criticism in life , due to three reasons:
    1. I take it very personally and i take notes whenever i go wrong, for life, so there’s less chance of getting dished out again.
    2. I am my biggest critic myself. So people seldom bring me any new information in that respect.
    3. Finally, if there is an instance where I feel that criticism is uncalled for, I make sure that I prove my point and set the record straight, in a logical, constructive manner. This helps keep ‘cynical’ critics at an arms length, for later.
    The world respects people who respect themselves. At the end of the day, what matters is what you think of yourself, and not anyone else.
    Taking criticism lightly helps you be more socially acceptable, but not successful. All successful people are ones who have learned from their mistakes and counteracted destructive criticism thrown against them, instead of succumbing to it and changing themselves just to satisfy their critics.

  • Some people have a hard time hearing even constructive criticism. Born out of a Dale Carnegie school of thought, I think this is the best way I’ve ever heard approaching criticism:
    “Begin with priase and honest appreciation.
    Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
    Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
    Ask questions instead of giving direct orders…
    Make the fault easy to correct.
    Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.”
    ~Dale Carnegie

  • I find that the best method to use is the sandwich technique. It works in 3 steps.
    1. Acknowledge something good about the person and give them a compliment.
    2. Inform the person what he or she needs to do better.
    3. Acknowledge something else that is good about the person.
    Obi Okere

  • Hi Salima,
    I like to call it constructive criticism and try to refrain from using that evil sounding world alone. In my profession where I give free resume reviews daily, it is required for me to give factual feedback. By framing this word with constructive in front the listener/reader always gets the idea that this may be a bit prickly, but, it is for their own good.
    Unfortunately, movie and play critics and cable TV have inundated the general public with the idea that trashing another’s efforts is acceptable.
    No, it is not especially with young impressionable minds in the audience.
    Everybody has feelings and the least you can do is to respect that and turn your criticism into a learning experience for your audience. Simon Cowell for example could be a class act and say: ” You have plenty of enthusiasm, energy and raw talent. But before you get to the big time you are going to need help from a voice coach or singing lessons…” At least the Gong Show merely used a Gong without shredding people’s feelings. That is so wrong.
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  • Criticism is valuable when there is a valuable path to improvement.
    If there is not, then from a personnel policies point of view I would question the value of retaining the employee. If you cannot make it better, you are maintaining a false illusion of worth only because you are too lazy to terminate the relationship.
    So put some effort into helping someone be a better employee or, if this is really not possible, show them the door.

  • Great question and comments!
    I’ve always believed that there is a kernel of truth in every piece of constructive criticism (if I’m on the receiving end). Even if the criticism simply allows me to see how I affect others or how they think of me. Another word to substitute here is feedback.
    If it’s just criticism (negative), agree that it often results in embarrassment on the part of the deliverer. ESPECIALLY when it is received with grace or wise action.
    The need to give constructive feedback is essential – and it must be done by being grounded in our core beliefs and values. If we give feedback and care about the person we’re giving it to, they’ll know. And if we don’t care, they’ll know that too. The good news is, this is a teachable skill.

  • Salima,
    “Criticism” is often intertwined or intermingled with “conflict” or “confrontation”. It’s when the receiver of the message takes it to the level within themselves – ‘this is how I feel, or this is what I think about this’, rather than the ‘this is how you (the sender) made me feel’, that learning and resolution occurs.

  • It depends on who is communicating and what their motivation is.
    I happened upon this quote on Tim Ferris’ blog:
    … if you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative. Keep your head on straight, don’t get emotional, take the heat, and just make sure your clients are smiling.

  • I like criticisms because it gives me a lot of courage that there are rough roads still ahead of me.
    Sometime, criticism conflicts with rule of the law.
    In these cases, people make tough decisions.
    When people make criticisms about other people, he or she wants to improve these or that sectors of his or her parts.
    In order to respond these criticisms by positive attitudes, he or she has to find about his or her self.
    After that, he or she has to thanks for what he or she points out weakness and strength.
    Sometime, people cannot see their own weakness.

  • Ken Strong is on target – but too gentle. 🙂
    In my book, there is no such thing as “constructive” criticism. Criticism is exactly that – and nearly always connotes disapproval.
    Alternatively, I enjoy the phrase “Feedback – the Breakfast of Champions.” And, there is a method for providing feedback that requires permission on the part of the person who is receiving it, and that it is delivered without attachment.
    In my world of Credit and Collections – you can imagine the delicacy involved in pointing out the failures (if they are that) of the debtor in keeping their agreements. Now, THAT is a dance!
    * http://www.writtenoffamerica.com/blog

  • “It is not important what you say, but how you say it”, a number of people are unable to distinguish between the two. I personally believe criticism should be positive in such a way that it should give more opportunities for improvement.
    Negative comments on people’s ability always create lots of personally and professionally issues on the person. Even if we are criticizing on some thing we should remember that it should give a bright picture at the end.
    Criticism for the sake of criticism is again counter-productive, and generally people start avoiding confrontation with the line managers. But if the criticism has an angel of positivity then chances are too great for improvement without shattering anyone’s self confidence.
    We always have to remember serious professionals do not like direct criticism in any case, they want respect from seniors but also willing to take directions at the same time.
    There could be ways of saying things but I have seen some more effective
    1- Nice work but do not you think this particular case would validate
    2- Design is brilliant but this piece of image is not going with your overall design. I suggest we should have few more options.
    3- Come on, you can do much better. This is not your work, mate.

  • Criticism is the negative connotation/meaning/word, Feedback is the positive one.

  • Yes, criticism can be good if done correct. When criticism is given it assumes one is more right and the other is more wrong. Before criticism is given, it is important that you are confident that the criticism is absolutely necessary. After you determine that criticism is necessary, do what is called the criticism sandwich. Here’s how it works 1) start by appreciating them. Make them feel important. Point out something that they do well. 2) slide the criticism in there as subtle as possible. 3) end with something else positive that they have done, or ask them a question that gives them the chance to be right and inform you. 1 and 3 can be flip flopped of course. The next paragraph are thoughts from successful people about criticism:
    Abraham Lincoln criticized much when he was young, almost to the point of death. He learned his lesson rather quickly and adopted a new philosophy, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” He put an end to his criticism and vowed to “judge not, that ye be not judged.” It is a vicious cycle, I don’t know that many things are worse in a relationship than criticism. Carnegie said: “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defense and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”
    Charles Schwab said this: “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticism from superiors. I never criticize anyone. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.”

  • Judith Angell

    The one area not mentioned specifically is within the boss/employee performance review/appraisal process. Within this context there is also the element of shared responsibility–was assignment/project given without sufficient information or direction? was assignment completed as assigned but needs have changed? were priorities not clearly communicated or have changed since last direction given? Sharing the responsibility/blame by a boss defuses the situation so the opportunity to improve and achieve desired results becomes more likely.

  • In my opinion The best way is ‘compliment sandwich’. Appreciate the good , make the person visulize better results , show him the way forward for this.
    I personally believe in respecting indiviuals & indiviuality so Criticism should alway sbe of the act not of the person.
    & in case there are some people who always perform some acts which you think are worth Criticism then its just the matter of chemistry. (mostly happens in personal relations) In that caes talk to the person & if no solution then its better to avoid extreme conversation with such people.
    Neha Kaushal

  • There are a lot of excellent answers posted here, but one thing that most have missed in their sophisticated consideration is that many of the people who are on the receiving end of this critique are Millennials, who, as a group, have not often been subjected to anything but praise.
    The challenge may be that you are the very first person in your subordinate’s life to say “Your work is not up to snuff.” Regardless of how you package it, how you present it, and how much you agonize over how it will be received or understood, you may be delivering unthinkable information.
    It may not be substance of your constructive job and performance related criticism but the fact that you are challenging their performance that may be the disconnect that you feel after you have delivered your message.
    As an aside, I believe that everyone should be fired from a job before they reach the age of 20 — you find out that you don’t die from this “failure,” and that you were probably a bad fit in the first place. It is a very good way to focus on what you might need to succeed in the next job.

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