For many people, offering up criticism isn’t always pleasurable or appreciated, no matter if it’s from a family member, good friends or a work colleague. Whether it’s taken as constructive or it causes personal turmoil, criticism can be quite difficult to receive and process. The result can often be helpful if that was the intention, or it can be one of those difficult things to accept and forget.

Dealing with Criticism, written by Stephen Haunts

Being criticized at work has been known to have a significant positive or negative impact on employee morale and, in turn, productivity. Whether it’s handed out verbally, in an email, direct messaging systems or even a social media platform, more often than not, the one given the task of providing feedback, often fails to consider how it might be received, especially when it’s unfavorable. 

The goal is usually to improve results at work, without considering the connection between morale and productivity.

Some research has shown that criticism of any kind actually closes down the same brain centers that are otherwise activated when talking about positive things. So, it’s simple to understand how being criticized by a manager or colleague might evoke negative thoughts, embarrassment and humiliation. When a group of employees are put on the defensive and feeling dejected from negative performance reviews, it can be devastating to a company’s bottom line.

Receiving criticism at work, whether it’s called “feedback”, “performance reviews” or “advice”, likely won’t go away. As a cornerstone of corporate culture, more often than not, its how companies get things done. So, if your chances of avoiding criticism at work are slim, it’s in your best interest, as both giver and receiver, to understand what it is and how best to harness its capacity for productive output and positive people.

Types of Criticizers

There are a few libraries full of psychology texts filled with numerous chapters dedicated to the breakdown and classification of the different species of human criticizers. The same can be said about how the different types of criticism might be grouped. 

Three Types of Criticism?

For example, one former psychologist concluded there are three different kinds of criticism: friendly, objective and hostile. A friendly critique comes from a place of caring and is aimed at helping the person. An objective criticism, as the name suggests, is backed by facts and research only. The person has no status or influence. Hostile criticism is inherently negative. Its target is the person and the person’s ideas and is meant to destroy. 

Four Types of Criticizers

While the above mentioned three types of criticism makes sense philosophically or theoretically, when you’re at work, it’s your co-workers, managers and others giving and receiving criticism. Thus, the more sensible approach to understanding workplace criticism is a concept, cleverly devised by journalist Ann Friedman, suggesting that there are four types of criticizers in our midsts. Do any of these sound familiar?

Critics

Critics might as well be robots. They are smart people and might actually be considered experts in your field. At work it may be your department manager or a colleague with more seniority or experience than you. Critics are focused on your work performance or, according to them, how and why you’re doing wrong. They’re not interested in you as the swell person you say you are.

Haters

Haters criticize because they can and because they’re hoping it elicits your reaction – ideally for them, you feel some version of bad. You know what’s worse? They don’t care how bad you feel, they’re uninterested in your growth and betterment. They barely know you, if at all. So, it’s all the more puzzling why they have this irrational desire to put you down. 

Frenemies

“A wolf in sheep’s clothing” might come to mind when describing frenemies. A word mashup of “friend” and “enemy”, these criticizers can be a little tricky to spot at first because you definitely know each other. At work, your frenemy is a colleague who made you believe they had your back, but as soon as an opportunity opened up, they were right there to put you down. To add insult to injury, your frenemy’s criticism has nothing to do with improving your work performance and everything to do with you as a person. 

Lovers

Lovers (in the most platonic sense of the word) want you to succeed. They put the time, effort and excitement into your personal growth and improvement. There is nothing irrational about their criticism. In fact, it’s downright constructive. Working with and for Lovers will get you far because that’s how they live.

Dealing with Criticism

Reacting to criticism, regardless of its origin or intent, is as common as anything we do as humans. For many of us, it’s practically automatic. In the heat of the moment, we’ll let our emotions take over and end up regretting it several hours later — and that’s just from feedback you knew you were getting. Imagine how things would develop if you were offered unsolicited advice or surprise feedback from a Critic or a Lover. 

If you’re prone to reaction, you can forget about hearing what’s being said about you or your work. Why get angry? What do you have to gain by putting up walls and ignoring feedback? Instead of getting defensive, you might consider that constructive criticism can be a blessing in disguise. The benefits far outnumber any drawbacks to being on the receiving end of some constructive feedback.

So why not learn to be less defensive and more logical about how to handle it in a more dignified and progressive way? Below are six ways to handle the awkward encounter with grace and tact!

Keep an Open Mind and Listen

Do not react. Instead, try actively listening to what’s being said about you or your work. This is no place for pride, so lock it away for the day. Take copious notes and assume the intentions of the person providing the feedback are genuine and that they’ve truly got your back and want you to succeed.

Know Your Triggers

Easier said than done. This isn’t just a sibling who knows which of your buttons to push to get you angry. This is your job. The criticizer probably doesn’t want to harm you. Take an objective point of view and try to identify exactly what was said to make you feel defensive or upset. You probably already know the answer, you’ve just never had to articulate it before. For example, if your manager suggests ways for you to improve your presentation skills, see that as your chance to become better at something, as opposed to taking it as an insult.

Think First, Respond Later

Check your temper at the door. It won’t help you in most work situations. More often than not, stalling your reaction, no matter how difficult it is for you, is the best way to get a handle on your situation. Take some time first to digest the full story. If you must, wait until you get home to get angry and say everything you really wanted to say earlier. Use an understanding friend or family member as a stand-in to your criticizer.

Use it to Become Better

Once you’ve blown off the steam you generated from recent criticism, come back to the table and understand how to use it to become better at what you do. Hopefully, that’s what your criticizer was intending on doing – helping you become better. Can you imagine going through life without someone giving you feedback? Don’t just bury your head in the sand. If there’s something valuable you can learn from, go for it!

Go Easy on Yourself

Getting criticized isn’t the end of the world. Keep in mind, we all have something to learn and the more we know the better. Making mistakes or actually failing to do something perfectly does not make you a failure. It means you’re working and making progress. So, take it easy on yourself.

Express Gratitude

Say thank you for your constructive criticism, even when it feels hard to digest. Your positive attitude may come as a shock to them. Responding with gratitude will turn the tables on your criticizers, more so if they were frenemies or haters. Besides, it’s always better to take the high road no matter what type of critique was thrown at you.

Dealing with Criticizers

It can be a challenge knowing what to do with criticism when it’s coming from any of the different types of criticizers. Unless you really know them on a personal or professional level, your approach should always be rational and level-headed. More often than not, the source of the criticism is just as important as the content of the critique. Here’s how you can deal with the critics, haters, frenemies and lovers in your life.

Dealing with Critics

Pay keen attention to the critics. They aren’t being negative for the sake of being negative. Since they don’t know you personally, like frenemies, their criticism is unbiased and usually quite constructive. Take what they’ve imparted to you and work on the areas they’ve pointed out that need improvement.

Dealing with Haters

The best reaction is no reaction for haters. It’s what they love doing. Nothing they say is meant to be helpful, so do your best version of one person actively ignoring another. Their “feedback” is counterproductive. Just know that some people will always have something negative to say about you – especially if you’ve become successful.

Dealing with Frenemies

Accept their words gracefully, but don’t take them personally. Better yet, use this as an opportunity to reevaluate your relationship with them. Now you know what you can and can’t say to your frenemy because, if they can, they will use it against you. As well, on the off chance they’re not making it personal, try to determine if they’re criticizing your work or your work style? If it’s the latter, ignore it. If it’s the former, fix it.

Dealing with Lovers

Because they are wholly invested in you, their criticism is more akin to friendly feedback in support of your growth and happiness. You can definitely seek their advice on what they believe requires work and how to approach these changes. You have to tell lovers to just say what’s on their mind because they’re more concerned with sparing your feelings, rather than telling you what you need to hear. Appeal to their sense of greater good by letting them know that their feedback will help you become better at what you do.

Conclusion

If you make any form of content that you put out into the world, then there will always be criticism that follows. In my experience, a lot of feedback tends to be positive. Sometimes I get constructive criticism from someone who genuinely cares and wants to help. I always appreciate that. I also, from time to time, get people just being nasty jerks, especially on Twitter, which seems to be where the dregs of society lurk amongst some genuinely nice people. If I am honest, people giving bad and ugly feedback used to hurt, I am human after all and have feelings. Over time I have learned just to ignore feedback that isn’t helpful.

My dad always had a phrase he used, which I think about all the time. He said, “Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone has one. Most of them stink.” I think this is wise advice.

In my opinion, if you create anything, no matter whether a blog post, a video, a report for work, do your best work, and unleash it to the world only when you are happy with it. Provided you are satisfied with the end result, then nobody else’s opinion should matter. If someone wants to give praise or useful constructive feedback, then that’s fantastic. If someone wants to be a jerk to you, just ignore them, they are not worth the effort. Go forth and create your best work and enjoy the creative process.

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