How to Get Thick Skin & Deal with Criticism

May 26, 2011
6 Min Read

We will all face developmental feedback many times over our career. Often, it can be a great tool to use for learning and self-improvement. Some people even call it a gift. Reader Angela Hey, says “some people are more emotionally resilient than others and can respond positively to harsh criticism which breeds excellence.”

But despite its usefulness, it can hurt – a lot. I know this all too well because I have found I am more sensitive to critical feedback than I would like to be. I truly am my own harshest critic, and when someone else points out a flaw or mistake I haven’t seen, it seems as if I have failed twice. But I think almost anything can be improved with practice so I am always on the lookout for ways to handle feedback better. Here is what I have found:

Immediate Reactions

Critical feedback never feels good. Often it feels like a personal attack. Realize that this is a natural reaction for most, though some of us are more sensitive to it than others. If the feedback was given face-to-face, remember that you don’t have to say anything in defense and you don’t have to explain yourself. A nod, an “ok,” or a “thanks” can work well it this situation. You can always continue the conversation later. However, do fight the urge to block it out and write it down so you don’t forget it. Then divert your attention to something else so you don’t dwell on it in a negative manner.

Understand It

After the initial emotional sting has worn off, you can look at the feedback from a more logical point of view. Consider whether it has merit. Was it simply an insult? Or was it well-meaning feedback? Even if it was an insult, consider whether there is any truth to it. And even if the intentions are good, consider whether it is useful to you. Have you received similar feedback in the past? Treat it as just one data point and use your good judgment on how to proceed.

Use It

The very first step in using feedback is quite simple. It is to hear it. It is to not tune it out. If you have written it down and attempted to understand it, you are already ahead of the game. From here, you don’t necessarily have to do or change anything. Simply learning about an error or a weakness can help you divert special attention to it at a later date.

Other times, you may want to use it to make a change. If you do this---if you have received criticism, and then used it to better yourself---don’t keep that a secret. Go back to the person who has helped you and let them know how you have changed, or are working on changing. Say thanks.

Seek It

Actively seek negative feedback often—discovering problems about yourself or your projects early can avert major disasters later on. Ask for it when you start a new job, ask for it when you start a new project, and ask for it at the end of each year. This gives people permission to tell you what they may have been afraid to say in the past.

The combination of seeking out criticism and handling it well can be very powerful. The better you can handle constructive criticism, the more you will receive of it. People are hesitant to give unsolicited advice and people are hesitant to give well-meaning but difficult feedback if they think you will bite their head off.

How do you deal with harsh feedback?

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