How to Accept–and Learn From–the Gift of Criticism



Tracy Shawn, M.A. author of “The Grace of Crows

Please note this piece was first published in Psych Central

Criticism is often shot with such irrationally charged arrows that it’s natural to yield a defensive shield, which can deflect any kind of positive resolution or self-growth.

Also, criticism can be jarring to one’s self-image. For instance, if you perceive yourself as a productive member of your company and someone declares that you’re a slacker, it can be a blow to your ego. It’s natural, then, to try and combat criticism.

Some people will react to critical words by withdrawing. Others like to rationalize criticism by spewing out a stream of excuses. And some people like to resort to counterattacks by criticizing the criticizer. These tactics not only often escalate conflict; they also block most any kind of positive resolution.

What are the best ways, then, to deal with criticism? Listed below are four constructive tips mentioned in the International Toastmasters Interpersonal Communication Guidebook:


  1. LISTEN & ASK QUESTIONS. We often take criticism at face value. Yet, many times there’s a lot of emotional history hiding behind critical comments. It’s your job to listen with an open mind and to ask questions to increase your understanding of what’s really being said. For instance, if someone is criticizing you for forgetting his birthday, perhaps it’s really because he feels as if you don’t value your friendship as much as he does. If you take the time to ask what other things you may have forgotten, it may give you even more answers, which can help you resolve the conflict further.


  1. ACKNOWLEDGE. Let the criticizer know that you have listened to him. This, alone, can reduce the criticizer’s anger. It also allows a safe communication process in which emotions are more openly discussed. You don’t have to agree with the content of the criticism, yet in recognizing the other person’s feelings, you are showing respect and consideration. It can be as simple as saying: “I understand that you’re hurt because I forgot your birthday.”


  1. PARAPHRASE. If you use your own words to paraphrase what the other person has said, it gives the criticizer a way to clarify his thoughts and also correct you if you have misunderstood anything. This will help you gain further insight regarding the criticizer’s feelings, and will likely encourage a more positive resolution. It’s as simple as repeating back—in your own words—what the other person has already said.


  1. AGREE WITH THE TRUTH. Make sure to acknowledge the truth. If there’s any merit to a criticism, admit it. For instance, you might say, “I did forget your birthday, and I’m very sorry for that.” This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with the criticizer’s interpretation of the facts. For example, you don’t have to accept the judgment of the friend who says that because you forgot his birthday, you don’t care about the friendship. However, maybe you can still learn from your friend’s judgment—whether it happens to be an accurate barometer of your true feelings or not. Perhaps you tend to forget other important dates as well, which may make your other friends feel as if you don’t care as much as you really do. In this way, the criticizer has given you the gift of self-growth, a way in which you can change your outward behavior to better match your true feelings.


In conclusion, the sting of criticism can often be reduced when you remain calm and learn how to listen to what is really being said. When you continue to show respect to the person who is criticizing you—no matter how irrational and angry he may be—you are also allowing yourself to better accept the gift of mutual understanding and self-knowledge.


About Tracy Shawn, MA

Tracy Shawn, M.A. lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her award-winning debut novel, “The Grace of Crows,” is available on Amazon and other online book outlets. She has recently finished her second novel. Please visit her at: