Coping With Criticism

Increasingly the world around us is asking for feedback and validation and when that feedback is about us or a project we have worked hard on it can be hard not to be affected by some of the comments. Sometimes the feedback is fair but still hard to swallow and sometimes the feedback can be dastardly – but our response is all that is important. But this is not a modern issue. Aristotle said, ‘to avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing’. And this is not a way of life for us.

In the article below we will examine a series of steps that can help us react in the best possible manner and maintain a healthy perspective.

Step One.

Draw a black line on a piece of paper or chalk board and write ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ at either end. Now write down the worst thing someone could have possibly said about you in the feedback at the bad end. Don’t write what was the worst thing said, imagine what could have been said if someone wanted to ruin you. Think truly vile. Some examples might be:

  • This nurse is a complete idiot.
  • Needs to be struck off.
  • I’ve never hated anyone so much as I do this nurse now I’ve seen this piece of work

Now do the opposite at the good end. Again some examples:

  • This nurse is a real genius.
  • Best piece of work I’ve ever seen.
  • Give her a raise. Double her money. Absolutely brilliant.

When you’ve done this have a look at your black line again. Now write down the comments from the real feedback that have struck a chord but place them on the black line in proportion to where the other comments have been placed. I’m hoping that these real comments are towards the middle, showing that they aren’t anywhere near as bad as they could have been if people were trying to be nasty. Don’t just think this through. Draw the line and write it down.

Step Two

Now imagine you had nothing to do with the original piece of work but instead have taken over from that person and the first you see of it is alongside the feedback. How useful would that feedback be now for you in turning this work into something genuinely world class – and those who fed back are contributing, free of charge to your final success. This not only helps us to depersonalise the issues but helps us see how we can turn this negative moment into something very positive indeed. Your work but better than you could have hoped for.

Step Three

We all make thinking errors in difficult situations; cognitive biases that don’t help with our understanding of a situation. If you have received feedback and are saddened or worried by it ask if you are making any of the thinking errors below.

All or Nothing Thinking – Are you seeing the feedback in black or white terms? If it isn’t 100% positive then it must be terrible!

Magnification and Minimisation – Are you blowing the negatives up whilst diminishing the value of the good stuff?

Emotional Reason – Are you assuming that your emotional response to the feedback reflects reality?

Catastrophising / Jumping to Conclusions- Does a small number of negative comments mean something bad will happen. Does this mean you will lose your job (or believe you will)?

Step Four

No matter how you feel inside remain calm, polite and dignified. Sometimes this is all we can succeed in when working through a project. When you face a difficult issue but are able to do this it sends a strong message to your future self about how you will manage when things don’t go to plan. And knowing that you can do these three things is a huge confidence booster.


All the best with it.


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