You Suck: Or, How to Process Criticism


Recently I received some criticism from a customer. Sometimes I find it difficult to process criticism – I justify or argue or dismiss. Some of that is my personality – I like to be right! Part of that is the fact that I strive for excellence, so when I’m told I missed the mark, it can feel like I’m being told I’m a failure. You, dear reader, probably strive for perfection – but let’s face facts: we’re not perfect. If you’re like me and you have a difficult time receiving criticism, then this post is for you – hopefully you can learn something from how I process.

I’m Not Perfect

This one’s tough. My natural instinct when receiving criticism is to justify. For example, the criticism might be, “You didn’t finish when you said you would.” My inclination is to retort: “Well, you weren’t clear enough on what you wanted,” or something like that. However, the most critical key to successfully processing criticism is to remain teachable – and that means acknowledging that I missed the mark. I have to tell myself not to argue, not to justify. I have to take a step back and see the situation from the other perspective.

I Have Blind Spots

That leads to the second critical principle – I have blind spots. No matter how much I stare in the mirror to gel my hair to perfection, I still can’t see what’s going on with that stubborn crown on the back of my head! Even if I’m prone to introspection and self-improvement, I’m going to miss stuff. About me. If I reject criticism outright, I’ll never get a chance to see into those blind spots. I have to let criticism be a catalyst to stepping back and honestly assessing what I said or did from someone else’s perspective. I can only improve if there’s something to work on – so I have to let criticism surface things that I can work on.

I Am Not Defined By a Moment

This is a big one for me – I can tend to take criticism hard, so it becomes overwhelming. I have to realize that even if I blow it, that moment (or engagement) doesn’t define me. I’m more than this one moment. I may have gotten this thing wrong, but I get a lot of things right too! Remembering previous moments where I got things right helps me process moments when I get things wrong.

I Can’t Always Win

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I can’t win. Someone is going to be disappointed in something I did or said. Most of the time I don’t set out to disappoint, but life happens. Expectations aren’t clear, or are just different, or communication fails. Things beyond my control happen. I have admit that I lost a round – as long as I get up and keep on going!

Learning is a Team Sport

Sometimes criticism is deserved. Sometimes it isn’t. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. I make sure I surround myself with people that know and love me – that way, when I’m criticized I have a team I can go to. I like to make my team diverse – my colleagues of course, but also my friends and family. Even if the criticism is work-related, sometimes having a “personal” perspective can help process a “professional” issue. I also make sure I get someone who’s more experienced than me who can mentor me through a situation.

Often criticism has some meat and some bones. Take the meat, spit out the bones. My team helps me to sort the meat from the bones. They help me to keep things in perspective.

Make it Right

Finally, if it’s appropriate to do so, make it right. Sometimes I can take some criticism and just improve, learn and get better. Sometimes I may need to make things right. My team helps me figure out “action items” – things I can do to improve, but also things that I can do to make it right. This doesn’t always apply, but I like to look for things to do or say that will make things right. Although doing this without justifying myself is challenging for me!


Unless you’re particularly reclusive, you’ll get criticized at some point. Learning how to embrace and deal with criticism is an important skill to learn. If you use it as a chance to learn and improve, and surround yourself with people who can coach and encourage you, you can process criticism positively and become better!

Happy learning!

* Image by innoxiuss used under Creative Commons

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