“Do you have a moment?  I would like to talk with you about that financial report that was due yesterday.”


Just reading that request instantly makes some people recoil and feel attacked.  Although it’s a basic and general request, many of us automatically begin to feel negative.  Many of us have the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.


Conflicts can be healthy and those who can express themselves and successfully diffuse verbal criticism will become more successful.

Angry statements and accusations generally ignite arguments.  Not everyone agrees with others all the time.  Some people react negatively to any type of criticism.  However, not all criticism is meant to be negative.  Conflicts can be healthy and those who can express themselves and successfully diffuse verbal criticism will become more successful.  This article will provide several helpful techniques on how to effectively handle criticism.


Why do we become defensive when we are criticized?  The main reason is we perceive the criticism is an attack on our personal image.  Our image is how we perceive ourselves and the way we want others to see us.  This is predictive of how we handle criticism.  To respond in a positive and professional manner, the following are ways we react to criticism.



When we withdraw, we silently accept the criticism.  We may get up and leave the room.  However, without addressing the criticism, such actions may cause us to lose self-respect or self-esteem.  When we react in such a way, we avoid resolving the perceived issue or allow for clarification to ensure we understood the purpose of the criticism.



We use rationalizing to acknowledge the criticism, but then we go on to give an excuse for our behavior.  For example, your spouse criticizes you about forgetting your wedding anniversary; but you go on to explain your forgetfulness was due to a critical work project deadline and you got busy at work.



We counter-attack when we divert negative criticism by finding fault with the other person.  This reaction can become uncontrollable and may cause significant, irreparable harm.



My immediate emotion toward criticism is negativity.  Since most people do not know the difference between positive and negative criticism, many of us automatically think of all criticism as a negative attack.

Withdrawing, rationalizing, and counter-attacking are counterintuitive to any type of criticism.  However, even if the criticism was meant to be negative, we can always turn it into a productive, lesson learned.



There are five actions to positively handle criticism: active listening, acknowledgement, ask questions, paraphrase, and accepting merit and facts.  If you begin to feel negative upon receiving criticism, calm yourself.  Silently count to ten.  Become an active listener by focusing on what is being said and avoid being judgmental.  The following are keys that require the greatest efforts.


Action 1 – Active Listening  

Listen with an open mind.  Focus on what is being said and don’t think ahead of the person’s statements.


Action 2 – Acknowledgement  

Acknowledge that you recognize the criticism.  It doesn’t mean you accept the criticism.  It means you acknowledge the other person’s feelings, their opinions, and their understanding of the circumstance.


Action 3 – Ask Questions

If you don’t understand the purpose of the criticism, ask for clarification.  I recommend taking notes a few notes to capture the important points you wish to better understand.  Not only does asking questions help clarify the purpose of the criticism, it also diffuses the situation.  Be sincere when asking questions as well.


Action 4 – Paraphrase

Paraphrase by using your own words to reflect what the other person is saying.  This helps your criticizer to clarify their position.  Most importantly, it helps you to diffuse any negative feelings that may have began to build within you.


Action 5 – Accepting Merit and Facts

If the criticism had merit and is factual, acknowledge it. Remain calm and don’t take it personally.  Use non-verbal communication skills such as making eye contact, leaning toward the speaker, smiling, nodding, and voicing acknowledgment. These actions show respect for the other person.


Being human is to recoil when hearing criticism.  Maturing is to step back, listen actively, and identify and acknowledge the merit and facts of the criticism.  It takes practice to learn to accept criticism as a positive tool to help us become better people.  We also have an opportunity to offer positive criticism because we now have quality tools to add to our personal and professional toolboxes.


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Tom, Supervisor: “Do you have a moment?  I would like to talk with you about that financial report that was due yesterday.”


Peter: “Sure, I have time now.”


Tom, Supervisor: “Thank you.  The financial report was due yesterday by close of business.  However, it did not go out until this morning.  What happened?”


Peter: “Yes, I did miss the deadline and it went out at 8 a.m. this morning.  The reason was due to the financial software I needed to extract the data from kept crashing.  I submitted a support ticket to the IT Department but they were short staffed.”


Tom, Supervisor: “Oh, I see.  Why didn’t you reach out to me for assistance?”


Peter: “I apologize for missing that opportunity.  I was so focused on working with the IT Department that by the time I realized how late it had gotten, you were already gone by several hours.  I didn’t leave until a bit after 10 p.m.”


Tom, Supervisor: “Next time you are in that situation and an important deadline is looming, call or text me with the status of the project.  We almost lost one of our biggest customers.”


Peter: “I tried my best to get the report out.  I couldn’t help that the IT Department was short-staffed and couldn’t help me with the financial software glitches.”


Tom, Supervisor: “Okay.  I need you to keep me updated, especially when you are having issues that may prevent you from meeting critical deadlines.  If I had known, I could have asked our Corporate IT Department to assist.”


Peter: “I need to do a better job at ensuring you are always in the loop.  I cannot allow myself to get so bogged down that I miss the opportunity to better communicate with you.”


Tom, Supervisor: “Thank you for staying so late and getting the report out.  Although it was received late, the customer was very impressed with your work.”


Peter: “Thank you for letting me know that the customer was satisfied with my work.  Again, I will work on communicating better.”