How Well Do You Handle Criticism?

by in Self Esteem, Stress May 13, 2008

girls-1.jpgLet’s face it, nobody likes to deal with criticism. Especially unsolicited criticism when we are not even asking for “feedback”.

For those of us that are extremely sensitive, trying to shake negative criticism can take days, months, or sometimes even it can cling to us and linger in the back of our minds indefinitely.

One of my favorite tips for dealing with criticism I learned from my Family Medicine instructor, Robert Anderson, MD.

Dr. Anderson taught me to always take a moment to DECIDE first whether or not the criticism is warranted or not. Oftentimes people will make hurtful remarks because they are jealous of us, or simply quite unhappy with themselves and wanting to spread the negativity throughout the land. Why bother then allowing the criticism to cling to us?

If the criticism is determined to be unhelpful, unwarranted, or untrue, why bother even accepting it in to your world in the first place? If the feedback is warranted, useful, and true, then we should simply see it as a growth opportunity, and make the necessary self improvements like a good grown up. It’s okay. No one is perfect.

We all need feedback, positive much more than negative. Below is Dr. Anderson’s rules for “Positive Strokes”, a “stroke” is simply a unit of recognition.


  • Give others positive strokes
  • Give yourself positive strokes
  • When you are given a positive stroke, accept if fully
  • When you are given a negative stroke, accept it only after very careful examination for validity
  • When you need a positive stroke, ask for it

I firmly suggest you print out that list and post it in your work space so your co-workers are frequently reminded to give you all the compliments you deserve!

An important recommendation on that list is to immediately accept all compliments without hesitation. So often we are given a compliment and will shrug it off, make an excuse, act embarrassed, or not believe it to be true. However, if someone is sincerely paying you a compliment, the statement is most likely true, and should be addressed with a simple “thank you”.

Try getting in the habit of saying “thank you” immediately to all compliments and NOTHING else. This is the simplest way to accept that much needed positive stroke without allowing our minds to argue about the validity of it or not. Positive feedback is often few and far between, so why bother EVER rejecting a compliment?

Frankly, I just don’t see the point in it.

Dr. Anderson also recommends that we actively make an effort to GIVE five positive strokes each day. Think of how much more positive your work environment or family life could be by simply giving out a healthy helping of compliments each day! They say we need 12 compliments to cancel out one negative comment. If you actively give positive strokes the people in your world will be more receptive to any negative feedback you ever have to give.

Also, giving positive strokes is simply just fun!

How many positive strokes can you give out today?

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. I believe in the advice to find a way to agree with your critic. First, it takes the wind from their sails. Second, it takes you out of the defensive and puts your more in the objective. Also, it’s an opportunity for improvement, or a chance to test your self-assurance.

    When giving constructive criticism, I think the key is trust. If somebody first trusts your intections, then they’ll be more receptive to your feedback. I also try to distinguish between the person’s behavior and the situation.

  2. There is another altogether much tougher option. As Wayne Dyer says and I’m paraphrasing “Don’t be influenced by the good opinion of others” In other words stay true to yourself and not care about what others think knowing that they will make their own minds up based on their own values. If we spend too much time trying to please others we end up pleasing nobody.

    In today’s society that is a tough one to pull off put a worthy goal.

    In the meantime and prior to us all being canonized we can just smile at compliments as you rightly suggested.

  3. I read this and the first thing that popped into my head is a Quote/Passage by Mr. Hill…


    No one can cause you to have any kind of emotional reaction without your first giving them permission to do so. You alone are responsible for your feelings and emotions. When you know what you plan to do with your life, you will not allow annoying situations to deter you from your goals for long. If you set ambitious goals for yourself and work enthusiastically toward them, you will quickly realize that you don’t have time to allow petty annoyances to upset you and keep you from your objectives.


  4. I LOVE this article! What amazing suggestions from Dr. Anderson and you as well, Doc Nicole as to how to handle criticism! There are also amazing suggestions of things to do to become an overall good person and make people feel good! As I say many times in my articles on SELF WORTH

    in my blog, feeling good about oneself is key to being emotionally healthy, hence aiding in being physically healthy as well.

    As far as the handing out of criticism, I think it all depends on from whom it comes as to the way I handle being criticized. I have often been accused of having “thin skin”, but I think that’s because the criticism was coming from someone very dear and close to me. These are the people that sometimes give you feedback that you don’t ask for and hence it becomes bothersome. I believe that those who are closest to us should be bringing us up and not down. Then again, this person thought of it as constructive criticism and telling the truth to me rather than trying to hurt me. But what was not understood, was that it was unsolicited feedback and that it DID hurt.

    I can often blow off criticism or take it well from those who are not close to me. But I suppose I don’t take is as well if I don’t ask for it first.

    I loved this article!
    Dr. KC

  5. Great post, Dr. Nicole. It’s important to note that it really is more blessed to give than to recieve. That is a principle that always holds true. Not accepting a compliment from someone is detrimental to them and to you. Saying “Thank you” and meaning it is a beautiful thing for both the complimenter and the person being complimented. Also, this brings out how great we will feel when we compliment others. It’s such a beautiful thing to forget about ourselves and to think about how to uplift others.

    I was given some very wise advice once… Never give out advice unless it is asked for or in the case of an emergency….. I may occasionally make an exception to that rule, but these are very wise words I try to follow.

    Benny, I love that quote by Mr. Hill REMEMBER THAT NO ONE CAN HURT YOUR FEELINGS WITHOUT YOUR COOPERATION AND WILLINGNESS. It reminds me of my series of posts on steps to happiness.


  6. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    This is why I love coming to visit your site. It’s always a pleasant surprise.

    I learned the simple “thank you” years ago, after years of not thinking I was good enough for the compliments. Self esteem issues have a tendency to get in the way of accepting compliments.

    It’s also important to compliment others. If you see they have done a great job, a sincere “atta boy/girl”, goes a long way.

  7. My favorite part of this post was the part about giving positive strokes to others. We spend so much time focusing on negative things and feeling hurt and defensive that sometimes we tend to forget that others may be going through the same things we are.

    I never say nice things to simply flatter someone, but I also never pass up the opportunity to give an honest compliment. The look of joy and usually complete surprise on the face of the person on the receiving end never fails to make me smile and feel better about my own day. People just don’t expect to hear nice things these days and seem downright shocked when they do. Giving compliments to others is a great way to make the world a little brighter for yourself and everyone else.

  8. Great explanation!

    thank you

  9. Hi JD- I think that is excellent advice! Most people offering constructive criticism are just trying to help us be better, and if we can do that then we WILL be better! Great point 😀

  10. Hi Tim- So very true…I agree completely, although I do have to say a nice compliment every now and then does feel good. But what you are saying follows Dr. Anderson’s rule of “Giving yourself strokes”.

  11. Hi Benny! Such a great addition to this article that quote was. I think also it goes without saying that when something “really does get to us” it is because it is true and we simply need to embrace the truth and make the necessary self improvements!

  12. Hi Dr. KC- I agree with you, and I actually think you are a pretty tough lady. However, I do try to ask people if “they would like my opinion on something” before I go about doing so…unless it is about their kid and it is some health advice that could really help them…but even then I still ask if they want my opinion or not.

  13. Hi Barbara- yes the simple thank you is important, and it took me years to master!

  14. Hi Lori! Yes insincere compliments are right up there with unsolicited feedback! LOL I do like to focus on the positive in people though and encourage that which I see is good about them. I think people to some degree will be however you see them, they feed off that energy, so if you see them as good they will be good.

  15. Hi 4exe!

    Thanks for stopping by 😀

  16. Hi Jennifer! It truly is better to give than receive, I always feel better when I point out the positive in people!

  17. Have you read the book “Mindset”? It talks about the “Growth” mindset in which you take valid critisism and use it as a way to grow and improve instead of a declaration of your value. I learned a great deal from in and have totally improved my opinion of critisism. I’m not perfect but I am much better at not crumbling from critisism.

  18. Criticism is a very good tool to improve ourselves as long as it is said subtly (or privately) and taken positively; and I think people who can’t handle criticisms are not open for changes and improvement.

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