How Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Criticism

As a Washington, DC based Life Coach, I’ve found this to be true: none of my life coaching clients welcome criticism. It’s human nature to enjoy being right and feel a sense of hurt when we’re wrong. HOWEVER … the right type of criticism can actually be a GIFT. That’s right, with a small shift in mindset you too can learn to welcome criticism as a tool to growth and learning. Disagreement and setbacks do truly help us grow. The people who call us on the carpet, point out our weaknesses and flaws and actually provide constructive criticism do have our best interests in mind. They are so much more valuable to us than “yes men.”

The Life Coach Says: DON’T listen to criticism when it’s …

  • based on falsehood,
  • delivered in a way that’s meant to destroy your sense of self-worth, or
  • offered without any suggestions for improvement.

When my DC Life Coaching clients find themselves on the receiving end of constructive criticism (or its more benign counterpart, “feedback,” which when delivered incorrectly can be just as painful), they often have to work hard to prevent emotion from closing their minds. The ability to handle criticism well depends on how secure we feel about who we are, and what we’re good at (read more on this topic in my life coaching blog post, Improve Self-Confidence by Practicing Humility). It can be a challenge to avoid feeling defensive when we’re being criticized, and we often go into self-protective mode when receiving critique.

The Life Coach Says: when dealing with criticism, try to avoid …

  • “fleeing” the criticism by changing the subject or getting out of the conversation completely,
  • minimizing the problem. “Is it really that big of a deal?”
  • making excuses
  • going on the defensive and trying to shoot holes in the critique
  • justifying why we did what we did
  • shifting blame to someone else
  • going into attack mode by bringing up the flaws of the criticizer – either in person with them, or later on with others (which allows us to dismiss the criticism as unfounded).

According to Psychology Today, when all perceived criticism feels gravely threatening, we might actually have narcissistic tendencies! This type of person may have over-the-top reactions when receiving even the most constructive, positive feedback. That’s because deep down, these people are clinging desperately not simply to a positive but a grandiose sense of self, so are compelled at all costs to block out any negative feedback. In other words, they can dish it out – but they can’t take it. (Read more about NPD and handling criticism in this insightful Psychology Today article, “The Narcissist’s Dilemma.”)

When you see yourself as right all the time, you’re missing something. On the other hand, people with low self-esteem may take other people’s opinions too seriously. Fear of judgment and disapproval can be crippling. I coach my clients to understand that words can be hurtful, but they are just words. My best life coaching advice would always be that time spent fretting over what others think of you is probably time wasted. It’s impossible to control other people, but it is possible to be in control of the way you internalize, process, and react to criticism.

The Life Coach Says: Here’s How to Handle Criticism

Emotionally intelligent people handle criticism well by focusing on these 7 steps:

  1. Listen and give yourself time to process. Emotionally intelligent people take the time to hear what’s being said, and ask questions to make sure they understand the criticism fully. Your first instinct might be to immediately respond or defend yourself, but resist the urge; I life coach my clients to delay their response until they’ve gathered their thoughts. Keep your ears open and look at this as an opportunity for growth. If the criticism occurs in person, respond graciously with a polite but generic response (i.e. “I appreciate the input! It gives me something to think about.”). Address the issue again after you’ve had time to think.
  2. Assume good intentions. The person delivering the criticism may not have your best interests at heart. But in the spirit of change and growth, make this assumption to start.
  3. Respond calmly. Be respectful no matter what, and thank someone if the feedback is useful.
  4. Don’t take it personally. Remember, when someone is criticizing you at work, for example, they aren’t attacking you as a person. Their understanding of who you are begins and ends with the tasks you’ve completed (or failed to complete) for them, no more.
  5. See the criticism as help. Sometimes, we don’t see things clearly. Other people have a completely different perspective on our performance, attitude, or how we come across to others. You shouldn’t take the fall for something you didn’t do, and there are circumstances when you’ll need to defend yourself. But in general, keep a learning mindset when it comes to criticism. Use this feedback to help you grow.
  6. Acknowledge your weakness. With interpersonal relationships, simply stating the criticism back to the person delivering it helps not only tell the person they’ve been heard, but also helps you acknowledge and verbalize the problem.
  7. Ask for details, and how you could do better next time.

The Bottom Line

Remember that the criticism represents just one person’s point of view. Know what your strengths are … and don’t let other people’s opinions keep you from working hard towards a goal.

Need an ally in this work? Handling criticism well and treating every obstacle as an opportunity can be challenging, even for the most positive, self-assured person. But I believe that with life coaching, we can change our lives one day at a time. We’re not broken, and we don’t need fixing. We have everything within ourselves to create the life we’ve always dreamed of. With the right tools, powerful questions and the intention to create something great, with me as your life coach we can determine where we want to be and get there. We don’t even have to know what “our best life” looks like, just that we want to live it.

Contact life coach Catharine Ecton today for a complimentary, no-obligations consultation to explore the possibilities. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my Washington, DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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