Dealing with Criticism

See also: Giving and Receiving Feedback

Dealing with criticism positively is an important life skill.

At some point in your life you will be criticised, perhaps in a professional way. Sometimes it will be difficult to accept – but that all depends on your reaction. 

You can either use criticism in a positive way to improve, or in a negative way that can lower your self-esteem and cause stress, anger or even aggression.

To deal with criticism positively may require good self-esteem and some assertiveness skills, you may find our pages: Improving Self-Esteem and Assertiveness useful.


There are two types of criticism - constructive and destructive – learning to recognise the difference between the two can help you deal with any criticism you may receive.

Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.


Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People

When challenged by another person, it is common to react in a negative manner. Consider how negative reactions make you look – and more importantly how they make you feel.  The way in which you choose to handle criticism has a knock-on effect in various aspects of your life, therefore it is better to identify ways in which you can benefit from criticism and use it to your advantage to be a stronger and more able person.

Constructive and Destructive Criticism

The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the way in which comments are delivered.  Although both forms are challenging your ideas, character or ability, when someone is giving destructive criticism it can hurt your pride and have negative effects on your self-esteem and confidence.  Destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness by another person, but it can also be deliberately malicious and hurtful.  Destructive criticism can, in some cases, lead to anger and or aggression. 

See our pages: What is Stress? | What is Anger? and Dealing with Aggression for more information.

Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is designed to point out your mistakes, but also show you where and how improvements can be made. Constructive criticism should be viewed as useful feedback that can help you improve yourself rather than put you down.  When criticism is constructive it is usually easier to accept, even if it still hurts a little.  In either scenario always try to remember that you can use criticism to your advantage.

A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful.


Proverbs 28:13


Dealing with Critical People

Some individuals are critical by nature and do not always realise that they are hurting the feelings of another person.

If you know a person who is critical of everything try not to take their comments too seriously, as this is just part of their character trait. If you do take negative comments to heart it can create resentment and anger towards the other person, which could damage the relationship.

Remember, people who criticise everything or make scathing remarks to be hurtful are the ones that need help – not you!

How you physically react to criticism will depend on the nature of the criticism, where you are and who the criticism is coming from.

The key thing to remember is that whatever the circumstance is, don´t respond in anger as this will cause a scene and create bad feelings – and possibly a bad image of you. Try to remain calm and treat the other person with respect and understanding. This will help to defuse the situation and potentially stop it from getting out of hand.  Show that you are the stronger person and try not to rise to the bait, do not use it as a reason to offer counter criticism.   If you challenge the other person you may start an argument that is probably unnecessary.   If you find it difficult to cope with criticism you may find our page: Anger Management helpful.

If you do feel that you may lose self-control, or say or do something potentially damaging, walk away. If you are in a meeting at work, politely excuse yourself and leave the room until you have had time to gather yourself.  Even though somebody´s negative remarks may hurt, it is more harmful for you to allow their criticism to be destructive to your confidence.


Taking the Positives Out of Criticism

We all make mistakes all the time, it is human nature.  As we go through life we have plenty of opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. Therefore, no matter what kind of criticism is aimed at you, analyse it to find something you can learn from it.  In material matters at work, school or social clubs for example, try to take criticism on board to help you improve.  When somebody is attacking your character it is hard to accept, but that does not mean you should ignore it.

Also bear in mind that the criticism aimed at you may not make sense at the time. Generally speaking, there is usually some truth in criticism, even when it appears to be given  out of spite and bitterness.  It is often the case that a slight on your character is a fair reflection of how another person sees you at that point in time.  Take a step back and try to see things from the other person’s point of view, perhaps ask a friend for their honest opinion – use criticism wisely and as a learning experience.  See if it is possible to learn a little about how others perceive you, you may be able to use criticism to improve your interpersonal skills.

We all learn by making mistakes, and learning how to deal with criticism positively is one way that we can improve our relationships with others.

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