How to take criticism

How to navigate criticism and learn not to take it to heart 

by Karen Meager 

No-one enjoys being criticised and negative and hurtful comments often prevent people from pursuing the things they want in life. You might ask yourself ‘What if people don’t like my idea?’ or ‘What if I fail and everyone sees?’. The thing about achieving anything worthwhile in life is that it, to some degree, involves us sticking our necks out and standing out from the herd. It so important yet doing this is can often leave us feeling exposed.

Developing successful strategies for dealing with criticism doesn’t need to involve becoming cold and hard. The good news is there are some fairly easy ways to take the hurt out of criticism and even make use of it:

Find your Trusted Loved Ones (TLO)

TLO’s are the people in our lives who we can be totally vulnerable with, sharing our deepest fear and who will respect us as well as be honest with us. According to research done by vulnerability expert Brene Brown, it is likely that we will only have 1-4 of these people in our lives at any one time. These are the people whose opinions really count. They know you well, love you and respect you. These people are your criticism filters, when you have received some criticism you can go to them and ask ‘Is this valid? Do they have a point?’. Having TLOs in your life is such a critical part of being connected and loved but it is also key to you becoming free of hurt from criticism. Often criticism is received from people who don’t really know us or are dumping their own stuff on us, so TLO’s help sort out what we need to hear from what is, basically, someone else’s rubbish. TLO’s could include you partner, a mentor, friend or work colleague. 

Sometimes people get down because they don’t think they have any TLO’s in their life. Some people don’t, particularly if they have been caught up in a web of unhelpful co-dependant relationships. In this case you might decide to hire a professional TLO for a while whilst you work on this, like a good coach or therapist. 

Sort out your shame issues

According to Brene Brown – we all have shame issues. Most of us can remember a time as a child or as school where we were shamed and it hurt. I have yet to meet anyone arriving at adulthood without having experienced shaming and it affecting them in some way. Often people think that shame issues are the domain of people that have been abused in some way, and these have the most severe impact for sure, but shaming comes from small things too, being told off as children, failing an exam, being made to sit at the table on our own because we haven’t finished our dinner. Many of these small instances are nobody’s fault, they just chip away at our ability to filter criticism appropriately, so we arrive as adulthood, determined to avoid it at any cost.

The good news is that NLP and other psychological technologies have great interventions for resolving these without the need for years of therapy. I’ve put some useful books on this issue at the end of this blog if you want to read more.

Don’t ignore it

Ignoring criticism isn’t actually possible, once you’ve heard it or seen it it’s there. So work through a piece of criticism rather than pretend to ignore it, if you don’t it will just stay locked up inside you, controlling your behaviour and emotions. Avoid being defensive or arguing with someone who is critical, this just compounds your negative feelings (and gives the other person power over you). Say ‘thanks, I’ll think about that’, or ‘I’ll consider what you’ve said’, or even ask for clarity if it doesn’t make sense to you. As we often say ‘Don’t get furious, get curious’. When you approach criticism with curiosity rather than defensiveness you can easily work through what there really is, if anything, in this for you to take away. Sometimes our critics can be our most powerful learning opportunities.

Set up a bin in your mind for pointless criticism

We all need somewhere to ‘bin’ criticism that is worthless to us. Actually distinguishing what is and isn’t valid is easier than you might think. It’s another way of processing criticism and is not the same as ignoring it, you are considering it based on a set of criteria and deciding it is worthless to you. 

Remember – anything worth hearing is not going to be universally popular. In fact nothing is universally popular. All great ideas have their critics, don’t let fear of it get in your way.

Recommended Reading

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw

Real Leaders for the Real World by John McLachlan and Karen Meager

About the Author:

Karen Meager is a training design guru, the founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, and co author of award winning book ‘Real Leaders for the Real World’ (£12.99, Panoma Press) Karen has an MBA specialising in strategy, financial strategy and human development. She is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist (DipNLPt), one of less than a handful of internationally accredited NLP Master Trainers, coach and leadership development specialist.


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