Handling Criticism

Think of criticism as an uncomfortable way to learn more about yourself and your impact on others.  Criticism is simply feedback that we may find difficult to hear but which we need if we are to expand our awareness of our impact on others.

The Johari Window is a diagram which illustrates why we need feedback. Increasing the “window pane” made up of what you know and what others know about you reduces any “blind spots” we might have - situations where others have information gained through their direct experience of our words and actions but we are largely unaware of their impact.

Johari Window

The Johari window is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others

Listening to criticism and critically assessing what we are told is an important way to increase the size of the “window panes” of self knowledge and to reduce the size of the “panes” that reflect lack of self-awareness.

Tips for responding to criticism from others

  • Relax and listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Breathing deeply may help you be more focused.

    Say back (paraphrase) what you heard the other person say to let them know you really heard and understood their point. We know we heard them but they don’t know unless you tell them. This does not mean you agree with them.

  • When someone is speaking loudly and at a fast pace, respond by keeping your voice low and speak slowly.

  • Ask for clarification if the criticism is somewhat vague or unclear. If they are saying, “You are cold with people” ask for a specific example so you can understand what they are referring to

  • Decide whether the criticism is fair or unfair. Look to see if there is a grain of truth to what they are saying.

    This is hard to do as we may have a desire to deny or defend. If you can find some truth to what they are saying, take ownership of your behaviour. If the criticism is unfair, bring up your question about the matter of unfairness rather than the criticism itself.

  • If the criticism is fair, ask for specific suggestions or an alternative, such as how they want you to handle the situation or behave differently.

  • If you disagree with the criticism, respond with your opinion in an I- statement rather than a you-statement.

    Example: “I didn’t want to exclude you” rather than “Your interpretation is all wrong.”

  • Don’t get defensive and rationalize or go into long excuses.

  • It can be helpful to share your reaction to the criticism.

    Example: “It’s not easy to hear this criticism.”

    Example: “I’m sorry that my words caused you distress. My intent was….”