Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Being More Resilient in the Face of Constructive Criticism

You will improve your relationships and grow as a person.

Key points

  • Some people are highly sensitive to constructive criticism.
  • It's important to moderate your response to feedback asking you to improve or change your performance.
  • Managing your negative feelings will help you maintain relationships and foster personal growth.
@mcreynoldsphd used with permission
Source: @mcreynoldsphd used with permission

No one likes to be told they’ve made mistakes or that they've done something wrong; it’s hard to sit with knowing that you could have done a better job or handled the situation differently.

But receiving criticism with a negative attitude not only affects the quality of your work, it also affects your relationships with others. It’s important to approach feedback from others with humble confidence and an openness to receiving guidance that will help you grow and self-improve.

I know that this is easier said than done, and it’s easier to believe this when you aren’t the one receiving the criticism. Some people are highly sensitive, meaning that even the slightest hint of constructive criticism or feedback upsets them because they perceive it as insulting. They may feel rejected, unappreciated, and even demonized. But experiencing intense emotions and believing such negative thoughts can shut down your ability to hear feedback that might be useful. And even if it isn’t useful, rejecting what others say can lead to an impasse in communication.

Although there are times when criticism is too harsh, and it’s delivered in an unkind manner, this blog focuses on constructive feedback that is intended to be helpful even if it’s hard to hear. It’s important to become resilient in the face of criticism, so that we become stronger and can learn from our mistakes. Here are some things to think about when your thoughts and feelings negatively affect your ability to receive constructive feedback.

  1. Consider the source: If the person who is giving you feedback, whether it’s personal or professional, is someone you trust, they may have guidance to offer that will be valuable. And completely rejecting anything they have to say sends the message that you don’t think they have anything of value to share. If you think they are off-base, having a calm and productive conversation about it will be much more fruitful than simply getting upset. Wholeheartedly rejecting the criticism may also affect your relationship with them. If the feedback comes from someone that you don’t trust or who you don’t feel knows you very well, consider they may have misunderstood your words or actions and talk it over with them.
  2. Reflect on your emotions: Think about why you are so upset. Don’t engage in all or nothing thinking where specific feedback becomes general criticism of who you are as a person. Receiving specific feedback about a situation where your actions or words could have been handled differently does not mean that you are a bad person. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves the opportunity to change and improve. This does not mean that you are less intelligent, or less capable of doing your job. It does not mean that you’re not a good friend, partner, or coworker.
  3. Empathize with the person giving feedback: Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes helps you understand that while it’s not easy for you to receive the feedback, it may not be easy for them to give it either, especially if it’s negative. Think about you might feel if you were the one commenting on their behavior. It’s not fun to give others negative feedback, so imagine how they are feeling. Sometimes it’s necessary to tell others how they have hurt us or how their behavior affects us in some way, but that does not mean that they don’t do anything right. This is also true for us.
  4. Limit the extent to which you personalize: When someone is telling you that you made a mistake, or that they didn’t like something you did, take it in the context for which it is intended. Most of the time, constructive criticism is provided about specific behavior in specific circumstances. For example, performance reviews are intended to improve work-related behavior and responsibilities. Interpersonal criticism is given when people are trying to resolve conflict or improve their relationship. Overgeneralizing the criticism to reflect your character, or anything about you as a whole person, leads to hypersensitivity that is unproductive and unhealthy. Overreacting to the criticism of others may result in them not trusting you or feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around you.

None of us escapes feedback or criticism from others. We all face it at work, in our relationships, amongst our friends, and within our families. Learning how to deal with it productively will help you be a more thoughtful, resilient person.

More from Carla Shuman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today