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  • Nancy Boudreau, RYT, CHHC

Learning to accept criticism as easily as compliments

“I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” - Georgia O'Keefe



It's not what you say but how you say it

Criticism and compliments are two sides of the same coin. But let’s be honest—accepting criticism is hard. It can feel embarrassing or like a personal attack—especially if you put your heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into something and are proud of it. Despite all that, criticism gets a bad rap. It can be useful, and a little tough love is sometimes necessary.


It's not what you say, but how you say it

How criticism is delivered can make a huge difference in how it's received. Thoughtfully worded and delivered negative feedback can help you improve, learn, and grow.


Feedback like “This soup is delicious, but it could use a little more salt.” is actionable. Needs more salt? I can do something with that information. Brutally delivered critique delivered under the guise of being “totally honest” or “telling it like it is” can feel like a sucker punch to your self-esteem. “This soup is disgusting!” doesn’t tell me if it’s too spicy or bland, too thick or thin. It tells me something’s wrong but gives me nothing to go on. It’s not helpful, and it’s just plain rude.


"Oh, this old thing?"

To be fair, most of us aren’t very good at accepting compliments either. Compliments certainly feel better than criticism, but they can still make us uncomfortable. If someone gives you a compliment, do you find yourself deflecting or minimizing it? Tell me if this sounds familiar: Someone compliments what you're wearing, and rather than saying "Thank you!" you say “Oh, um, yeah, I got this at the thrift store. So cheap.”


Why do we do that? Could be any number of reasons. We’re embarrassed. We were taught that people only say nice things when they want something from us. We don’t want people to think we’re frivolous/stupid/conceited/you fill in the blank.


If you have trouble accepting criticism, it might be worth reflecting on how you accept compliments. If your tendency is to deflect or minimize, practice accepting compliments graciously. Take a moment, breathe, and say “Thank you!” or “That’s so nice of you to say that.” instead.


Round and round it goes

Regardless of how many compliments we get, we’ll inevitably fixate on the one person who gave us the side eye. It’s crazy! Why do we only seem to remember the punches and not the praise? It’s human nature, and there’s a name for it: Negativity bias. According to verywellmind.com, negativity bias is “our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events.”


Negativity bias is the brain's evolutionary adaptive strategy used to help keep us safe. Put your hand on a hot stove and get burned; chances are you'll remember that and won’t do it again.


The fact that it’s so hard for most of us to handle criticism and our tendency to dwell on it is normal, but we can learn to get better at accepting and using criticism to learn, grow and improve.


6 ways you can get better at accepting criticism


Consider the source.

First and foremost, consider the source. Feedback from a valued friend or the perspective of a knowledgeable colleague is worth considering. The feedback comes from a place of honesty and a sincere desire to help.


Criticism without suggestions for improvement or feedback delivered by a stranger, internet troll, or someone with no expertise is just an opinion. And everyone’s got one. Ignore it or thank them for their feedback and move on.


Stay calm and listen with an open mind.

Getting negative feedback or criticism can feel like a personal attack. You feel embarrassed or hurt. You get a pit in your stomach or knot in your chest. Stay calm. Take a deep breath. Listen to what the person is saying and try not to interrupt them, get defensive, or make assumptions.


Get some clarity.

If you don't fully understand it, ask for clarification. Ask for examples or more details to help you get a better idea of the person's perspective.


Separate criticism from self-worth.

This is a big one. Criticism isn’t a reflection of your self-worth, ability, or skills. Don’t let criticism chip away at your self-confidence. Everyone has areas they can improve on, and receiving positive and negative feedback is an opportunity to do just that.


Focus on improving and learning from your mistakes.

Look at criticism as an opportunity to focus on improving and a chance to enhance and refine your skills and abilities. Mistakes and imperfections are a natural part of creating and learning. Use criticism as a chance to learn from your mistakes and make positive changes.


Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself. Nobody’s perfect and trying to be will only make you miserable. Some people might think your work is great, others might think it's okay, and others will think it’s a pile of hot garbage. Even if you do your very best, you will never, and I mean NEVER, please everyone. Treat yourself with the same compassion, learn and move on.


I know. Easier said than done, but I truly believe accepting criticism (or compliments) is like any other skill—it improves with practice. The more you approach it with an open mind and a growth mindset, the easier and more helpful it gets over time.


Can you relate? Let me know in the comments.



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