How to Deal with Criticism (No, it doesn’t involve brandishing any weapons)

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I got some true blue criticism this week, and at first I didn’t feel like I handled it very well.  Now, after a day, the dust is settling and I feel much better.  I feel like I found some good steps to help me work through the process.  In today’s post, I want to reflect on that experience.

I don’t want to share all the gory details for everyone, so I’ll give you a quick overview so you can track the progression of this post.  I recently wrote an article for a journal.  I spent hours laboring over the article.  The article was prophetic in nature so I knew not everyone would be onboard.  I felt proud of the finished product.  When I got my peer reviews back, it was very negative about my thoughts and my style.

Thus, I’m not talking about the general criticism that all of us bloggers get.  Here’s an unsubscribe message I had this week:

its too much fill my inbox …little boring

By the way, my favorite unsubscribe message was that my articles are about as boring as watching mud dry :)

What should you do when you are criticized?

Always consider the source of the criticism.

I can typically brush off criticism from readers simply because I don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who I am.  Of the however-many-billion people in the world, some are bound to be socially dysfunctional, misguided, critical, and wrong.  That’s their problem – not mine.

The problem with the criticism I got this week was that it was from a trusted source.  A person who has credibility in the field.

Realize you can’t make everyone happy.

That line is easy for me to write and hard for me to do.  I like to make people happy.

But, once again we must remind ourselves that, as part of God’s design, we cannot please everyone because people are pleased by different things.

Some people hear someone confront another person, and they feel like it was too aggressive and/or too harsh.  Others sit back, smile, and say ‘amen’.  Later in life, one person will say they are what they are because someone pushed them.  Others will say they quit because someone pushed them.

I was watching a video done by Aweber. Ramit Sethi said he considers it a good thing when someone unsubscribes from his blog.  It simply means his abrasive writing style doesn’t appeal to that reader.  He’d rather have readers who are onboard with his style than readers who constantly criticize and argue against what he is doing.  I love that idea.  It recognizes that you are not going to appeal to everyone.  Not everyone will like you.

Always consider the criticism before you reject it.

Like any pompous fool, my first thought was to fight back.  Hey, my article isn’t saying that or meaning that.  I stewed for several minutes.  Then I printed up the email.  I printed up my article.  I highlighted the main concerns from the email.  Then I prayed (a very, very important step).  I asked God to let me see what sections of my article needed to be changed.  Then I read through my article referring back to the criticisms.

In the end, I found out that the criticisms were valid.  I should have phrased things in a better way to make my statements more clear, less general, and less judgmental.

Involve a third party.

When you enter into any disagreement or conflict, something happens to your psyche, and the world automatically shrinks to involve nothing more than you and this issue.  However, this severely impacts your ability to think honestly about information.

As a result, I emailed some friends and said, ‘”This is what I wrote.  This is what they said.  What do you think?”  This goes back to “the source of the criticism”.  Though the person is a trusted source in the field, I know no one is infallible.  As such, I wanted people I know and trust to help me identify the key areas of the article that need to be altered.

Guess what?  The feedback was almost the exact same.  Somehow, I failed miserably at what I was attempting to do.  Whatever I was intending to write was not communicated.

Now it’s time to make improvements.

Be thankful.

I will have a better finished product when this article is done.  If I had gone to print with the article as is, I would have opened myself up to a lot of justifiable criticism.  However, the criticism of a few has allowed me to tie up some of those loose ends to be sure that I don’t give any room for misinterpretations or false assumptions.

What do you do when you receive criticism?  How do you appropriately deal with it?


  1. jmd says

    Thought provoking article. Brought back a flood of memories some distant and some more current. I haven’t always been the best at receiving criticism and often have been way more defensive than I should have been.

    With the passage of time I have reconsidered the criticism for the most part as valid. Perhaps it was my delivery more than the message. I have tried to spend more time reflecting than speaking. I am not addressing your situation just my experiences.

    Hang in there, I really do enjoy your site.

  2. says

    I think it’s natural for a part of you to take offense at criticism and want to defend your work. Overcoming that aspect has been the hardest for me. One of the habits in Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I try to remember this when others criticize my work. It’s not always easy, but when I do it, I learn so much more than when I try to defend every part of my work.

    Good post Craig!

  3. Marie says

    I am very impressed by your insight and maturity. I do not tend to deal well with criticism, so these tips are very helpful. Thank you!

  4. Gholmes says

    Nope I don’t do well either. Also a good reminder for me to watch my comments.

    I don’t mind criticism/input on my draft version of a report however, once I think it is final that does smart. I like @ Tims comment reminding to seek to be understood.

  5. says

    i think it is in our sinful nature at times to not be open to criticism, even when it is constructive. Why? Maybe because we like to think of ourselves as being good and decent people, who are smart -and who very rarely make mistakes.

    We also sometimes allow the criticism to be more than just a piece of criticism about a piece of work – but instead a commentary about us as people. We think if we take the criticism, it means that we are lesser as people – not as smart, or not as worthy. Only when we become more in tune with our identities as God’s children – who are loved by Him, despite our failings, can we better accept criticism.

    I know that’s something I struggle with as well – accepting criticism. It’s not always pleasant. But sometimes it is necessary. And sometimes it’s not. We just need to be discerning about what we’re being told, and as you talk about, carefully consider whether or not the person has a point.

    Good thought provoking post!

    • says

      You bring up a good point.
      It is important to receive the criticism for what it is. In this case, the criticism was of a piece of work (an article), not me as an individual. Initially, I felt like I was being criticized. We are so closely connected to the things we create, but we are not what we create. In the end, I was not being criticized, but something I did. It’s a fine line to distinguish, but an important one.

  6. says

    I appreciate the introspection, Craig. The biggest lesson I have had to learn – and which I do not think I still have fully embraced – is that it is absolutely impossible to make everyone happy. I still try at times though.

    Your third point about considering criticism before you reject is also important – even more critical is to not fire back with a knee-jerk response you may regret later.

    Great post, brother. :-)

    Len Penzo dot Com

    • says

      I remember reading the comments on regarding your kids cell phone post. That was funny stuff (to me – was it funny to you?).
      I think it is true that the more ‘style’ you have the more likely you are to find people who either love your style or can’t stand it. Either way it is good to at least consider the criticism.

  7. says

    Ha! Yep, those were some very, um, creative, comments. The comments on Digg were the worst ones I think, although I got some tough-to-take ones at MSN Smart Spending too.

    They definitely left a few scars and I’m trying to forget them. But thanks for reopening those old wounds. LOL ;-)

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

    • says

      Yes, those were nasty. I don’t remember seeing anything about the MSN article. I guess I can just hope that I never get as popular as you – too much criticism at the top :).

  8. jmd says

    One last comment. Has anyone ever met some one that refused to accept any type, (no matter how carefully worded) form of criticism ? I have and it isn’t pleasant to be around the person that never wants to recognize that they might be mistaken, wrong or in error. Just saying.

  9. Alan says

    The best thing to do when receiving criticism is to be slow to respond, or slow to speak as the scriptures indicate. I can remember my fast emotional responses when I was younger, they always made things worse. I still find it very difficult to face criticism publicly while presenting a work thought to be very good. It is hard to dampen real time emotions and respond, or not respond, appropriately.

    Another item to consider is culture. I receive communications from all over the world. Many times what I consider criticism based on my own culture, is not that at all. Again, being slow to respond an putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is important.

    • says

      I think you bring up a good point when you talk about different cultures. Since I know you do business all around the world it is important to recognize how different cultures handle criticism. Americans are very upfront and direct. In Alotau people are indirect. That was one thing that shocked me about the criticism – it was so direct. I’d almost forgot how much people in North America like to get in your face. I’m guessing in most places in Asia people usually dance around the issue instead of attacking it head on.

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