5 Tips: How to Handle Criticism.

Via Kate Bartolotta
on Jan 3, 2012
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 “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.

It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body.

It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

~ Winston Churchill


Love me tender?

If you love me, tell me the truth–tender or not.

Ah, criticism.

It is more blessed to give than receive, no? No one wants to hear he has screwed up. You get flustered. Maybe even blush. You feel like a little kid who’s been called on the carpet for doing something naughty or making a mistake. You want to start swinging away at whoever is dishing out the criticism. It sucks. Can’t we just skip over this part where I’m wrong and move on to where you like me again and everybody’s happy? Please? Nope.

Criticism is like going to the dentist. You know you need it. You’re afraid it’s going to hurt. You get that knot in your stomach when you see it coming. You want the end result where you are better, stronger–but you don’t want to go through it.

We often avoid it as much as possible. We want to stay in our little cocoons where everything is nice and cozy, and no one makes us feel bad about our choices.

But that isn’t what we need.

Compassion isn’t always yes. It isn’t always flattery. When we screw up, flattery is a band aid; criticism is the surgery. If we really want to grow, surrounding ourselves with people who always tell us “it’s okay” isn’t going to cut it. If we want to be stronger, be better, we can’t let fear of criticism keep us wrapped up in our neat little boxes. We have to be able to give it–and take it.

Praise can be addictive. And dangerous.

Just look at Elvis. When Elvis was a rising star, he had his mom around to set him straight when he needed it. After she died, he surrounded himself with “yes men” and became insular, miserable, up and down…with, finally, a tragic, too-soon ending. Imagine the much happier ending if he had friends around who called him on it when he was popping pills and blowing all his money. Instead of random “sightings” by diehard fans, we might be still be enjoying Elvis and Willie duets today.

When criticism comes your way:

1. Stay quiet. Mouth and mind. Hear the person out until he’s finished. Being defensive doesn’t make you stronger; keeping an open heart does.

2. Ask yourself if it’s true. Be honest about this. Even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts.

3. If it’s true, thank the person. Anyone who gives you honest criticism has given you a too-rare gift. He or she has shone a light on an area where you need to change. Might still hurt, but it’s a good thing. If an apology is in order, do that too. The word “but” should not appear anywhere in the apology.

4. If it’s not true, thank the person. And then move on. If it’s a friend and there’s been a misunderstanding, sure–explain yourself. It’s fine to clarify things if you truly believe you are being criticized for something you didn’t do.

But sometimes people just feel like criticizing. Period. Sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with you except for the fact that you were in their line of fire. I recently received a comment from someone who told me that it was “People like me that make him hate the world.” and he went on in about half a dozen unrelated directions about what made him angry. Had absolutely nothing to do with what I had said or done. Still…good practice.

5. Right the wrong. The great thing about criticism is when it doesn’t just end with you feeling bad. Learning where you’re flawed isn’t where it ends; you are learning where you can grow. If it was unwarranted criticism, then learn the lesson of detaching a little more from your ego. You don’t always have to be right. You can let it go. (I’m writing that for me…I need to hear that the most. Maybe you do too.) If you deserved it, even better. Feel the hurt, stay open, and be better now that you know better.


Unless you never do or say anything, you will be criticized. As the Japanese say, it’s the nail that sticks up that gets hammered down.

But before criticism even comes up organically, we can try soliciting some constructive comments from someone we respect, who will give it to us honestly. No fishing for compliments from people who are going to stroke our ego and tell us how great we are. What good does that really do us? If we are closed up and smoothed over by flattery, how will we be able to learn and improve? 

Real growth towards enlightenment starts with a broken, open heart. And how we respond to criticism is one way to get there.




About Kate Bartolotta

Kate Bartolotta is a wellness cheerleader, yogini storyteller, and self-care maven. She also writes for Huffington Post, Yoga International, Mantra Yoga+ Health, a beauty full mind, The Good Men Project, The Green Divas, The Body Project, Project Eve, Thought Catalog and Soulseeds. Kate's books are now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. She is passionate about helping people fall in love with their lives. You can connect with Kate on Facebook and Instagram.


19 Responses to “5 Tips: How to Handle Criticism.”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    “A true friend stabs you in the front.” – Oscar Wilde

  2. Yes! As far as giving criticism goes, though, I'm a big fan of "praise in public, criticize in private." I find it's more likely to be received well that way (or at least I take it better that way!)

  3. Daiva says:

    Kate, I’m falling in love with you…(in a writer-reader kind of way) 🙂 pls never stop writing! I just love articles with substance that are real, raw, serious, but witty, funny and even hilarious at the same time:)

  4. Awww, thanks! But feel free to criticize when I deserve it too! xo

  5. Karla says:

    Terrific article – I also agree with the public praise and private criticism rule as well. We have a responsibility to use skillful means when giving and receiving criticism. Thank you! Karla

  6. RachelFMullane says:

    Whoa…this was difficult for me to read, because of the visceral reaction I ALWAYS get when criticized. Thank you for articulating ways to treat criticism as something that is not always negative.

  7. Kimberly says:

    Thank you for this. Truly. It came at the pefect time as I was at the receiving end of an upsetting phone call yesterday and have been giong over it in my head. My first reaction was to get mad and throw my hands up. I realized the immaturity and counter-productive nature of my thoughts and tried to find a better way. So instead, I thanked the person and tried to see it from their point of view knowing that, even if I disagreed with them, I had ownership somewhere. The next thing I did was I called someone I admire and am inspired by. Without giving details (aka gossiping) I asked for her insight on the big picture.

    Criticism hurts, but the things most difficult to hear are usually the things we should listen for the most.

  8. Adele says:

    Gulp, thanks!

  9. Andréa Balt says:

    "Kate does not play the accordion." Love you!

    This would have come in handy for me a few weeks ago with all the stuff women want. 🙂

  10. […] what I can tell you is this: Spend time with people who tell you the truth–even when it hurts–and who love you for […]

  11. […] criticism is the hard part, right? You know how to give […]

  12. […] take things personally. If someone does lash out at you, stop before you react. Is it deserved? Own your part and apologize. Clear up any misunderstanding if there is one. If it’s not, it’s about what’s […]

  13. […] True friends aren’t afraid to criticize us, […]

  14. […] But the negative comments (something the internet, now, particularly specializes in) also taught me CCL, as Trungpa put it. Couldn’t care less. Give up. Do your thing. As the Japanese say, it’s the nail that sticks up that gets hammered down. […]

  15. […] thing was the hardest—to see the beauty in myself. I think that we are always our own worst critics and I am so good at pulling myself down. Now I try to see the beauty in me. I may not have the […]

  16. […] times than I can count someone has also voiced a criticism they have of me that I brushed off with an air of disbelief and words like how could she think that […]

  17. nylassej says:

    Thank you for this one, Kate! This was a needed reminder about being accountable to myself as well as brushing off the haterade when it's not about me…the tricky balance between a thick enough skin and openness, well articulated 🙂

  18. doylee129 says:

    I've never come upon an article that I was so desperate to read on here in a loonggg time. I found myself very recently being criticized, and reacting as thought they had crushed my dreams. Thank you Kate, I tend to find myself drawn to your articles, and that is a gift. Keep writing please.

  19. Amy Evergreen says:

    I am a sensitive person who cares about other people’s feelings. As a result, I seldom use criticism because it is hurtful and rude. I listen to the other person’s views and ask them questions about their thoughts. I use praise and positive reinforcement to encourage healthy decision making. I ask them if they want my advice. If they do, I warn them that I will be honest, but tactful. Using criticism to “correct” someone’s behavior is sanctimonious and controlling. It is self serving for the criticizer, because then they can say, “I told you so”. If someone criticizes me, I get upset because it is not their place to say anything. I have to live my life and be responsible for my actions and decisions. If I ask for advice or constructive criticism that is different. Criticism is a tool to force people to conform to your rules. I will criticise someone who criticises me, if they start it. I want them to know how it feels. It’s invasive, unsupportive, inappropriate, unfeeling, callous, insensitive, presumptuous, hurtful, and unkind. Leave the constructive criticism to the therapists. They know how to deliver it and you are paying them to straighten you out. That’s acceptable and appropriate. Otherwise, listen and be supportive. Offer diplomatic advice if it’s requested. If you feel they are in need of adjustment, refer them to their pastors or therapists. Don’t poison the well. Don’t kowtow or placate. Just know they don’t want you to fix them, they just want to be heard. Just listen.