• Many people don’t respond well to criticism; however, when we learn how to accept and respond well to criticism, we can use it to our benefit. Here’s how:
  • First, stop yourself from reacting right away. Our first response to criticism isn’t usually productive, but defensive.
  • Then, remind yourself that most criticism is meant to be constructive; focus on the purpose of this piece of feedback being presented to you.
  • Now, listen and engage. Actually listen to what the individual is communicating and then repeat it back to be sure you understand.
  • Then, ask any questions you might have. Ask for clarification or examples if you don’t fully understand or agree with the criticism.
  • Finally, thank the individual for taking the time to talk to you about the critique. You can also schedule a follow up meeting if necessary.
  • Criticism isn’t fun, but it is necessary—and when we learn how to receive it well, we can even use it to our benefit.

A self-admitted flaw of mine is that I am terrible at receiving criticism. I take everything to heart, even when someone prefaces the conversation with, “Don’t take this personally…” But I’m proud to say that I’m working on it and I’ve gotten better, which has benefited me at work and in my relationships. Now when my boss sits me down to chat about a project, I can soak in all of his feedback and use it to create better content. And when my boyfriend tells me that I’m being a little hostile or unfair, I can accept that critique, reflect on my behavior, and correct it.

Do you have the same problem? You can learn to accept criticism and use it to your benefit, too! You might have your doubts (I know I did), but if you follow these steps, I’m confident you’ll begin to accept and utilize criticism to your advantage:

1. Pause your immediate reaction.

When I receive criticism, my mind readies 100 rebuttals. “That is not my fault,” “My way is better,” and, “You’re plain wrong,” are likely contenders. I admit these aren’t the most convincing rebuttals, but these are my immediate thoughts. This is why you should stop before you react. Think about it: If I actually responded to my boss’s criticism using any of these phrases, our meeting wouldn’t be productive (not to mention that I probably wouldn’t have a job). So, when you receive criticism, take a moment—pause the dismissive words that are begging to escape your mouth.

2. Think about the “why.”

Most criticism is meant to be constructive. At least the kind that we’re talking about, like the feedback we receive at work or from our loved ones. Also, your boss, significant other, or whoever is critiquing you probably isn’t enjoying it either. They don’t want to make you feel bad, and they likely know by now that you take criticism to heart. But still, they offer the criticism because it’s important, which brings us back to the why. Instead of focusing on the hurt or taking offense to someone’s criticism, remember its purpose. Constructive criticism is meant to help you improve—say, your skills at work or your relationship with your spouse. Remembering this is key to responding well.

3. Listen and engage.

Now that you’ve avoided a major freak-out on your part and acknowledged the purpose of constructive criticism, focus on listening and engaging. Listen to the individual’s feedback and when they’ve paused or finished, reiterate what they’ve communicated. For example, with your boss: “I understand that you want me to show more initiative on a daily basis, is that right?” And with your romantic partner: “I’ve gathered that you want me to put more effort into communicating with you throughout the day, does that sound correct?” Doing so shows the individual that you’re listening and taking in their feedback. 

4. Ask questions.

Now, if you don’t fully understand what the individual is trying to communicate or how you can improve on the critiqued area, ask questions! Don’t be afraid. The individual will likely be happy to answer any questions you have because their goal is to help you improve. Additionally, if you really don’t agree with the criticism you’ve received, this is a good opportunity to ask the individual for examples: 

  • “I want to make sure I understand, can you give me an example of a project I came up short on?”
  • “I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from, when have you felt underprioritized? Can you give me an example?”

5. Show your appreciation.

After you’ve listened and understood the individual’s criticism, thank them for taking the time to talk about this with you. Say something like, “I really appreciate you bringing this issue to my attention,” or “I’m glad we were able to talk about this,” to your boss. And to your significant other, something like this would do a nice job: “I’m happy that you feel comfortable talking to me. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about this.” The key is to demonstrate your appreciation. Then, if it feels necessary, you can even ask to revisit the issue at a later time. For example, if your boss presented something for you to fix at work. You can ask to schedule a follow-up meeting to talk about whether this issue has been resolved in a few weeks or months down the road.

Receiving criticism isn’t fun—it probably never will be. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to accept criticism and use it to your benefit at work and in your relationships. Hopefully, these 5 steps will help you do so!