How to Handle Criticism: The Top 7 Tips from The Last 2500 Years

“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.”
Emmet Fox

“Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them.”

Criticism can be a painful thing. When it’s valid it can also provide you with new insights about yourself and your life.

Many of the tips in this article can be used to learn to handle criticism aimed at you in a better way. But I’d also like to point out that it can be very useful to examine your own reasons for feeling like you have to criticise someone. It can tell you quite a bit about your own life at this moment and what you think about yourself.

1. Understand through experience.

“Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never walked in that man’s shoes.”
Elvis Presley

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
Benjamin Franklin

It’s easy to fall into the trap of criticizing things because, well, you feel like it’s wrong. But do you really understand what you are criticising?

From my own experience I have found that one tends to become less critical of things when you have experienced it for yourself and have an understanding. Instead of just knowledge about it.

It’s easy to be the armchair general, knowing what is always right. Especially in hindsight. It makes you feel good and like you are right.

But in the end the credit does not belong to this person.

2. Remember who the credit belongs to.

“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 and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, 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 he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Awesome quote and a thought that you may want to keep in mind. It is of course the wo/man actually out there in the arena who takes the difficult path. The path one doesn’t really have to take. You could just stand on the sidelines criticising which would be easier.

But watching life instead of living it may not be the best option. Because anytime you are on the sidelines just watching you are probably not doing what you deep down think is the right thing to do. Such behaviour makes you not feel good about yourself or your life.

3. Keep your focus on what’s helpful for you.

“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.”
William Faulkner

If you’re in the arena you are doing, failing, learning and repeating that all over again and again. You doing something you think is worthwhile.

It’s helpful to use your focus selectively. If you look at the sides of the arena you may see people booing and some people cheering you on. But to really get the results you want you have to focus. Focus on what you are doing in the arena. Keep your eyes on the ball.

The thing is if you take in the positive voices and let them define you then you have to take in the negative voices too.

How can you get past that problem? You can listen to them all, but don’t have a need or craving deep inside for any of them. Don’t seek yourself on other people’s opinions. Instead, validate yourself by focusing on the positive things you think and do. And get to know who you really are, not what other people think you are.

My mindset for praise – that I try to stick to as much as I can – is that it’s cool and I appreciate it. It’s great to get praise, but I seldom get overly excited about it and jump and down shouting enthusiastically.

A great upside of this mindset is that when you receive the opposite – negative criticism – you can often observe it calmly without too much wild, negative emotions blocking the way. This allows you to appreciate that piece of criticism too (if there is something to learn from it).

Basically this mindset is about not caring too much about what other people think. If you do then you easily become pretty needy and let others control how you feel. Both how good and bad you feel.

4. Don’t accept the gift.

“A man interrupted one of the Buddha’s lectures with a flood of abuse. Buddha waited until he had finished and then asked him, “If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?”

“To the one who offered it,” said the man.

“Then,” said the Buddha, “I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself.”

Simply don’t accept the gift of a criticism. You don’t have to. Then it still belongs to the person who offered it.

This is of course easier said than done. To have everyone own their own feelings and opinions instead of letting them be a part of you or something you feel responsible for isn’t easy.

Still, one can do it if one is aware of what Buddha describes. You can then choose to decline the gift rather than thinking that you have to accept it. Now, this might not work every time, especially if you are feeling very emotional and vulnerable. Still, it can be helpful to keep in mind.

This also ties into the previous tip. When you really need and crave other people’s positive – and perhaps negative – opinions to define yourself it becomes hard to reject the gift since you don’t see/don’t want to see it as something separate from yourself. You are all wrapped up in it.

5. Who are you talking about?

“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”

When you criticize someone what does that say about you? And when someone is criticising you who are they really revealing?

If someone makes a personal attack or just let’s the destructive words flow then remember that criticism isn’t always about you. Criticism can be a way for the one critiquing to release pent up anger, frustration or jealousy. Or a way to reinforce that his/her viewpoint or belief is the right one. Or s/he may have habit of getting others involved emotionally – baiting them – to build a negative spiral, an argument/fight or to get attention. It’s about him/her. Not about something you did.

It can have a calming effect to remember this. And to remember that the other person is still human and might just be having a bad day or week.

This does of course not just go for “the other people” out there. It goes for you and me too. Whenever you feel a need to be critical, ask yourself why. Whenever you have been critical towards someone who didn’t deserve it remember that you are hurting yourself and reinforcing your current state of mind and self-esteem level by this behaviour.

6. There is a better choice.

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
Charles Schwab

So, what can one do instead of criticising someone to get them to improve? One way is by lifting them up instead. By focusing on what they are doing well. And on how they can improve, rather how they are screwing things up.

As Schwab says, and as you probably have noticed in your own life, the spirit of for instance the workplace can have a great effect on your on your own mood, productivity, enthusiasm and motivation.

Energy flows where attention goes. So whatever is focused on – criticism or lifting people up – will expand and become stronger. One may think that harsh criticism may help and get results. It may just bring people down though and pollute the emotional environment.

7. Accept that it will always be there.

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing”

Since criticism often is a form of self-expression for the one critiquing or based in a lack of understanding there is little you can do to escape it. You can of course minimize your interactions with highly negative and critical people. Or keep your focus on what you are doing rather than the critics.

But whatever you do some people will probably feel a need to criticise.

Whatever you do there will always be people who don’t like what you are doing.

And that’s OK. That’s normal.

As Eleanor Roosevelt says:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thanks for all the comments, guys! I appreciate them.

    Iza: That is true. If the criticiser is right (and also if several people may point out the same thing to you) it is very helpful to listen and try to correct the problem. I agree, the article may be a little light on the aspect you point out although I mention it in the beginning of the article. And also in tip # 3 which is what I try to use to be able to listen to criticism without getting too blocked by negative emotions.

    Martin: That is also very true. Thanks for adding that aspect to the article.

  • Thanks for this piece. I’d add that one technique I’ve found useful for dealing with criticism is to “ground out” the feeling that comes up in my body when I get criticized. To do this, I pay attention to where I feel attacked in my body, and visualize a charge of negative energy in that area. Then, I imagine the energy moving through my feet into the ground, where it dissipates. This helps me to listen without collapsing or flying into a rage about it. Best, Chris

  • Henrik, your article was right on! Iza may shoot straight, but he forgot to aim! Indeed you did say: “You can listen to them all, but don’t have a need or craving deep inside for any of them. Don’t seek yourself on other people’s opinions…”

    I’d summarize the two most important points as 1) don’t be disempowered by criticism (use it if it’s useful, discard if not) and 2) don’t disempower others with your criticism of them.

    And thanks to Chris on “grounding out.” Never heard of that before, and it sounds very useful. Regards, Dorothy

  • This is one of the best articles I’ve read this year. Perhaps because I struggle with this within myself. And because I face so much of this at work. The quotes are beautiful and the ideas presented are timely. Thank you.

  • Ranga

    “Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them.”

    This point touched a cord – When I had joined as a newbee in an organization, another department head was criticizing us youngsters – about work ethics, skills and what not.

    I asked him 3 questions:

    1) Sir, when you were young, your bosses got out the best work from you – and quite a few must have been novices with little work knowledge or rebellious too.
    2) You blame us youngsters for not being upto mark.
    3) You are our bosses – so who do you think is to blame?

    It was my immediate boss who saved my skin that day – he was a great person, a great boss, and not because he saved my skin.

    I have tried to remember this when I deal with newcomers today – I have criticized their mistakes – but not them personally.

  • I love this, man. Good job.