How to Use Criticism to Your Advantage

Michele Warg
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Criticism is difficult for most people to accept. The type of criticism a person receives is an important factor in the actions taken to change the behavior. Helpful criticism identifies what may be wrong and suggests possible options for correction. Harsh criticism undermines confidence and, consequently, it takes a bit more effort to discern how improvements can be made. The following is a positive approach to dealing with criticism in either scenario.

Constructive Criticism

When someone makes a comment about how something you did or said could have been accomplished in a better way, ask the person to be specific. For example, if you gave a presentation or a speech and are told the speech was too long or the jargon was too complicated, get more information. Find out whether the overall speech was too long or if it was just too long in certain areas. Ask whether the speech would have worked better if you had taken the time to explain in detail the parts that had complicated or unfamiliar language. Armed with the answers to your probing questions, you can do the necessary work to make the next speech much better.

Destructive or Harsh Criticism

Dealing with criticism that only focuses on negative aspects is hard to take because it usually feels very personal. The feelings of failure should be kept to a minimum, however. Make a concerted effort to move past the emotional disappointment when dealing with criticism and focus on getting to the bottom of the negative comments. If someone merely says he did not like your speech and leaves it at that, investigate further. Find out what in particular he disliked and how he thinks improvements could be made. If you do not trust the source of the criticism, share the negative comments with someone else whose thoughts and opinions you value.

A trusted voice can offer feedback, help you stay objective and decide whether there is room to grow in the behavior and actions for which you are being criticized. If it is decided the criticism is valid, begin making a list of ways you might be able to improve the behavior. Once you have a chance to implement some changes, ask those closest to you to weigh in on the before and after behavior to help you gauge your progress. Dealing with criticism in this way allows you to feel powerful and proactive instead of judged and helpless.

Milestones in learning are often preceded by a brush with some kind of criticism. Making mistakes and dealing with criticism offers some of the best opportunities for personal growth. It is natural to be disappointed when something does not work out as well as anticipated, but the response to the disappointment may make a huge difference in whether dealing with criticism is helpful or becomes a bad memory you would rather forget.


Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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