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How to reduce the effect of destructive criticism

Back in February, my professional colleague Patricia Morgan wrote a guest post on workplace resiliency, specifically on how resilient people have an attitude of gratitude, even during tough times.   Her post was received so well that I asked her to join us again, and today she writes about another aspect of resiliency – responding positively to destructive criticism.

PatMorganReduce the Destructive Effect of Criticism

“I have some constructive criticism for you.”

Stop! Before criticizing it would be best to consider the results of doing so.

People with high resilience manage unwelcome criticism. They censor the criticism they both give and receive.

There are those who are totally against using any form of criticism and then there are the critical hardliners who say “A real friend will tell you the naked truth.” Then there are people who have a critical mind and perspective. Their gift is a logical critique that forewarns of problems. They could save us potential angst and trouble.  But where is the balance?

Here are reasons not to criticize:

  1. Many people have walked away feeling crushed, ruined, cut off at the knees, humbled, humiliated, or plain cheesed off after receiving so-called constructive criticism.
  2. Many people brace themselves when they hear, I have some constructive criticism. Often times they are not even able to listen.
  3. Many people have been so wounded in their youth by constant putdowns, sarcasm and criticism that they do exactly the same to others or go to the other extreme and never utter a word of disagreement.

And then, here are reasons to criticize:

  1. Improvement needs to be made.
  2. A safety issue is involved.
  3. Someone is speaking or acting inappropriately and needs to be confronted.

Here is more help.  Dr. Sidney Simon’s classic little book, “Negative Criticism, Its Swath of Destruction and What to Do About It” provides a filter or series of five questions to ask before we criticize another person.

  1. Is this the right time?
  2. Can she or he do anything about the situation or behaviour?
  3. Has she or he heard this before? Is this new information?
  4. Am I sure that none of my own hang-ups are involved?
  5. Is it possible that this person needs more encouragement, than anything else?

And, I would add that if you decide to criticize someone, consider calling it ‘feedback’ and ask permission first.  “Are you interested in some feedback for next time?”  Then, respect the answer.

Fine, you say, “But what about those times when I get dinged with old fashioned criticism and I did not ask for it?”  Here then are some ideas for responding to unwelcome criticism:

  1. Take a breath, stand back emotionally and put the criticism through Simon’s filtering questions. Then you ask yourself realistically if the information was fair and deserved.
  2. Discern if it was verbal abuse or helpful, perhaps courageously given (because someone cares about you) information. If you decide it is verbal abuse, say “STOP!” and walk away.  Note: verbal abuse often begins with “You are” followed by name calling, swearing or put downs.
  3. Acknowledge that you heard the criticism by saying “Thank you for the information.”
  4. Give yourself supportive self-talk. For example: “This information is their opinion. I listened, but I do not have to agree. Their opinion may help me in the long run. I will decide whether to accept their perspective or not. It is OK for me to make mistakes and learn from them.”
  5. Agree to any part of the criticism that is true and accurate. Do not acknowledge the parts that are note. “Yes I am late. I am late by 5 minutes.”
  6. Learn to say “I will think it over”, rather than making a quick decision to make a change.
  7. Apologize if you were in error, insensitive or caused harm.
  8. Avoid defending yourself, counter-attacking or adding your own critical comments.
  9. Later, if appropriate, report back to the critic whether the information was helpful or not.

In the end use the kind of criticism and feedback you want to receive.

Well, what unwelcome criticism have you received?  Please tell us how you handled it. 

To contact Patricia and learn more about her keynotes and workshops, visit her website at

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