How to Deal With Criticism: Positive Ways to Embrace the Good & Ignore The Bad

Back when I first started my business, I envisioned how it would look years down the road.

I dreamed of the day when I’d be lucky enough to work with really talented people like the ones who fill my company now.

I fantasized about having work/play “getaways” in gorgeous places with tons of healthy food and ample supplies of markers and flip charts.

I imagined the millions of people we’d reach, the projects we’d knock out of the park, and the impact we’d make on the world.

But that was a fantasy I didn’t tell many people about for years.

Why?

Because I was afraid that my idea was dumb and I’d be judged for it.

I was afraid of dealing with criticism.

Twenty years later, I now see how silly that was. But at the time the fear of criticism felt very real and very intimidating.

Since growing my business to what it is today, I’ve dealt with my share of criticism. Sometimes it’s a useful tip from a well-intentioned friend to improve my life. A lot of times it’s an uncreative comment from a bored clown biscuit online.

Either way though, criticism can offer a moment of growth — if you know how to deal with it.

How to Deal With Criticism Positively 

If you ever let the fear of what other people will say stop you from creating to your full potential or don’t know how to handle criticism, the MarieTV episode below is for you.

You’ll learn four critical points to keep in mind about criticism, as well as two of my all-time favorite quotes on the subject. If you want more tips and clear steps on how to handle criticism in the moment, keep reading after the video.

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Check out this episode on The Marie Forleo Podcast

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People handle criticism (or the fear of it) so differently. If you’re not careful, the fear of judgement can freeze you in your tracks, keeping you from taking real-life action. 

Don’t let criticism stop you from doing the work you were born to do. 

It’s time to stop hiding your gifts from the world and start embracing the inevitable criticism that comes with creativity.

How Do You Not Let Criticism Bother You?

As long as there is creativity, there will be criticism of it.

If your goal is to avoid criticism, as Aristotle said, “Say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

If you’re going to do anything in life, you’re going to have critics. As you grow and gain more and more awesome fans, you’ll also gain more and more critics. It comes with the territory. But it doesn’t have to tear you down.

Here are four things you need to know about criticism:

  1. You’re being judged and criticized right now. People judge the clothes you wear, music you listen to, your politics, stuff you own, personal beliefs, how you spend your money, how you raise your kids, what car you drive, where you live, who you worship, and who you love. Be honest: You judge yourself, too. Human beings are judging machines.
  2. The bigger game you play, the more criticism you’ll receive. It’s just how it goes. The more you put yourself out there — and the bigger difference you make — the more people come out the woodwork to tear you down.
  3. Always consider the source. I’ve never received a piece of hurtful, vitriolic criticism from anyone I admire or respect. Most successful people don’t have time to harshly criticize others. They’re too busy making change and living their lives. The harshest critics are often bystanders on the sidelines of life who risk nothing and create nothing.
  4. Use what helps. Leave the rest. Most criticism is irrelevant. It’s just someone’s opinion. And you know the saying: Opinions are like a certain part of human anatomy. Everyone has one, and most of them stink. But don’t be so fragile that you miss information that could help you. When you hear criticism, ask yourself, “Is there any part I can use to grow and do better?”

What Does Criticism Do to a Person?

You may be the most confident, successful person in the world — but criticism can still hit like a ton of bricks. It can make you feel like a failure. Inadequate. Embarrassed. Exposed. 

Constant or manipulative criticism can be extremely destructive and aggravate feelings of depression or anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Words are powerful. No question about that. But here’s what you need to remember: not all criticism is bad. 

Constructive criticism is a valuable tool that can help you grow. The trick is knowing what’s helpful and what’s not worth your time or attention. 

Constructive criticism

Supportive and caring folks usually share advice with you in private, after you’ve asked for their input. When they do, they do it in a way that will boost your growth, not stunt it by making you fearful or self-conscious.

The people closest to me offer this kind of constructive feedback. I’m grateful they look out for me, and I work hard to do the same for them.

Unsure whether a piece of criticism is constructive or not? After conducting a series of focus groups, some academic researchers created a model for constructive criticism that includes these three elements:

  1. You need to respect the critic and believe they care about you.
  2. The message must be well-intentioned, targeted, and offer specific guidance for improvement.
  3. You must be motivated to change.

Destructive criticism

Sometimes someone says something so horrible about you or your work that you’re left thinking, “Oh my god! How could someone be that mean?”

That’s not cool.

Insults don’t help you learn or grow, and people who lob them at you don’t care about making change. You don’t have to tolerate anyone being mean or cruel.

Don’t let someone come into your house and take a hot steamy dump on your living room floor.

If that happens in person, walk away. If it’s online, delete, disengage, block, unsubscribe — flush that dump down the toilet.

Sometimes mean things stick with you for a while, but remember: If mean words keep popping up in your mind, don’t let them drop down and poison your soul. Those insults say less about you and far more about the person who said them.

Use those insults to fuel your fire. 

Prove those nasty naysayers wrong. Use their severely misguided opinion to inspire you to be an even greater success than you already know you’re going to be.

How Do You Handle Criticism?

Once you recognize the criticism you’re receiving is constructive, you can receive it and use it to learn and grow. This takes practice, but will be well worth the effort.

If you’re feeling triggered when someone gives you constructive criticism, here are some steps that will help you process the feedback and respond with kindness:

  1. Do a body scan. Notice your initial reaction by how you feel in your body. Do you feel yourself stiffening in defense or heating up with embarrassment? Do you feel anxiety in your stomach or hear negative self-talk in your head?
  2. Take a beat. Before you respond, take a breath, relax tension in your muscles. If you don’t feel emotionally prepared to receive feedback, ask to have the conversation another time when you can show up ready to listen and respond calmly.
  3. Say “you’re right.” These magical words can diffuse any contentious situation. Consider what might be true about the criticism, and acknowledge it. Repeat the critique back in your own words to show you’re listening and to make sure you understand.
  4. Thank them. Offering feedback isn’t easy, so thank the critic for caring about your growth and development, and trusting you enough to share it with you.
  5. Turn it into action. After the conversation (or during, depending on who you’re talking to), make a plan to change. The person offering criticism might have suggestions, but ultimately, you know the best way to incorporate this new insight into your life. It’s up to you to take consistent action.

Most importantly, remember that responding to criticism doesn’t include making excuses, rationalizing, apologizing, or arguing your case. You don’t have to justify yourself or convince someone they’re wrong. Just listen, and use what helps.

Insult-Proof Your Ego

If the words coming your way belong in the category of destructive criticism, know this: You don’t have to respond to it or change yourself.

Yes, it will still sting sometimes.

But If you’re going to do anything in this world, you’re going to get haters. These people don’t know you and they share their opinions with you, anyway. And it’s usually mean and in public, i.e. social media.

Don’t give them your power.

People can say whatever they want, but you don’t have to take it in or let it ruin your day. Your time on this earth is precious, and you have to protect your soul.

Make this your new mantra for anytime some nasty criticism or BS comes your way: You cannot take me down; I will not give you that power.

With your power intact, here’s another simple way to salve the sting of a nasty critique: Have a good laugh.

Laughter disarms anything you find scary. Once you find the humor in something, it’s hard to take it seriously. 

In case you’re not ready to laugh at your own critics yet, watch this MarieTV where I share some “feedback” from my critics — and have loads of fun laughing it off.

Are You Ready to Embrace Criticism?

I’ll wrap up with one of my favorite quotes about criticism, from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcomings.

“But who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Now, let’s turn this insight into action…

Take 5 to 10 minutes today and practice receiving criticism by giving your critics the mic.

Not literally. Instead, in your journal, go off on yourself:

  1. Write the exact words you’d be crushed to hear about what you’re creating or doing.
  2. Take a deep breath, and read it to yourself or aloud to a soulmate.

Boom! The worst anyone can say about you has already been said.

When you bring your fears to light, they lose all their power. How can anyone hurt you now?

Bring on the critics. You got this.

With so much love,

XO