How to Survive the Critics!


We Can Do It Alternative

No one likes being criticised, at least no one I’ve met. Yet it is true that we usually learn our most valuable lessons from when something goes wrong. Cruising blissfully through life gives us very few opportunities to grow and develop. If we’re to continue to develop it’s important to hear what people don’t like as well as what they do. We don’t have to accept it (and I’m definitely not talking about abuse here) but as we rise through our careers we’re going to get our fair share of it. The more visible you are at work, the more vocal people will get in their comments.  If we want to improve sometimes we have to hear it all. And in the world of work receiving criticism gracefully can be an essential skill in getting ahead.

Women are often criticised for being more upset by criticism than men (there’s a conundrum!) I think we get more upset when we get a different standard applied to us, and it may be true that we divide the personal from the professional less easily than some of our male colleagues. Maybe.

However, whatever the whys and wherefores, learning to accept criticism gracefully can be a good career move, showing not only our inner confidence but our willingness to learn. Here are some tips to help the process along:


Listening to criticism isn’t easy but try and stop yourself automatically rebutting whatever is being said. It may be unjust and wrong, but let the other person say what they need to say. This can demonstrate a level of self confidence and is acknowledging the other person’s rights in this situation, whoever they are. So, keep your lips firmly closed and genuinely listen to what they are saying.


Having heard them out, make sure that you have understood before you respond. Paraphrase what you think they are saying. Ask them questions to confirm your understanding. If they are getting a bit heated and personal try not to rise to it, but calmly say:

‘I appreciate you are upset/angry/annoyed etc. However, please try and tell me what concerns you without getting abusive. What is it that I have done/not done that is causing the problem?’

Ask them to be specific, especially if they are resorting to wild generalisations, and especially if they are rubbishing you as a person. They have a right to say what they feel but not at the expense of your rights. You have a right to be treated respectfully. It’s a two way process.


You don’t always have to respond immediately. If the criticism is of a piece of your work, such as a report, say you will look at it again in the light of what they have said and then respond. If they have been very personal, rather than respond while you are still smarting, you might say:

‘I’m feeling a little upset at the moment and will talk to you about this later when I’ve had a chance to reflect’.

Try not to get into recriminations of the ‘Well, your report writing isn’t so hot either!’ variety. It won’t really help and won’t get you any further advanced.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

It can be helpful to you if you take a few moments to acknowledge how you feel. Is the criticism tapping into something else in your sub conscious? Maybe their words have awakened previous hurts, or are an echo of how significant people in your life have talked to you?

Be careful to respond as the adult as you are now, not the child you might have been when first given that criticism. For example, your boss says ‘I don’t like the conclusion of this report’ and you hear a teacher’s voice ‘ You’ll never amount to anything, stupid child!’. Be as honest with yourself about your feelings as you can.

Are They Right?

This is probably the most difficult part of receiving criticism but, ask yourself, do they have a point? Are they correct? Was I too impatient with that colleague? Did I rush that last piece of work? Is it below my usual standard? If they do have a point, it’s a very adult and professional approach to take this on the chin and say, yes, they are right.

If they are not, then make clear that you do not dispute their right to make a critical comment, but you do not agree with what they have said because….and state your case.

When you find yourself in the position of having to give critical feedback remember the cardinal rule: be specific about the actions or behaviour not personal about the individual.

If you haven’t yet heard I am running my one day RenewYou course for women in London this November. It’s a great chance to stake stock an reflect upon what you want from the next 12 months. You’ll leave with an action plan and a journal to make your next 1 2months your best ever. You can find out more here. And for everyone who reserves their place early there is a super indulgent free gift!

Posted on September 28th, 2016 by

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