It happens to all of us.

Someone tells us how we are doing something wrong or badly and we don’t know how to handle criticism.

There comes a day….. or two….. or a whole bunch of them, when we find ourselves being criticised by someone. It might be a boss, or a friend, a parent or lover, it hardly matters who is doing the talking, it can feel super hurtful all the same.

So when it happens, how do you handle criticism?

Do you cringe and shrink from the person? Do you get angry or lash out at them? Do you stuff it all inside and then pretend it didn’t get to you at all? Or do you take it personally and start to work really hard on changing whatever it is they told you?

Here’s the dirty little secret about criticism……….

90% of the time it isn’t about you at all!

How’s that again?

90% of the time it’s about the person doing the talking.


Unless you are a student talking to your teacher about why that painting, or poem or project doesn’t do what you wanted it to do. Or you are hashing out with your boss or team why you didn’t meet your goals, it’s more than likely that what you are hearing is “non-productive criticism”. And that my friends, is “all about me and not about you”.

“It’s Not You…. It’s Me”

Non-Productive Criticism, or N-PC is all about the person spouting the “helpful information”. It’s the woman in the park who tells you how to leash your dog as you walk by her. It’s the guy who sits next to you at the seminar and gently suggests that you bring 2 pencils and 3 pens to the next meeting. It’s the parent who reminds you that “good students always finish all their homework before dinner”, or the coach or counsellor who tells you to  “get off your butt and stop holding yourself back”.

N-PC is criticism without application.


What I mean by this is that you are being told something that sounds important and sounds like it’s supposed to help you, but there’s no real information there for you about how to do what you are being told. There’s no “help” in the “helpful critique”.  So we hear this criticism and go about feeling hurt, angry, frustrated or like we’ve failed, without knowing what to do about it.

That’s not helpful in the least and it’s not really what it’s all about…

Most often when someone criticises us or tells us, “you are…”

They are often describing the their own biggest fear.

What’s Going On?

Most often when someone criticises us or tells us, “you are…” they are actually describing the thing they fear they are not. For example, the boss who tells you that you are disengaged likely feels that he is disengaged. The parent who tells us we aren’t working hard enough, likely feels that they aren’t doing enough. One we recognise that others opinions of us are all about them, it becomes easier to let those comments sail right on by without riffling our feathers.

When we start understanding and hearing these “suggestions” and criticism for what they are, it becomes waaay easier to know what to do with them.

My fave quote about all this is, “Your opinion of me is none of my business”.

That’s it in a nutshell……

Well, almost……


How To Handle Criticism in 3 Simple Steps

Here’s where we get to turn the tables on unhelpful or random critical comments and make them something really useful for ourselves.

  1.  The next time you receive one of these gems, breathe out slowly. Do this a few times before you ever open your mouth and before you go off, curl up in a ball and kick yourself for having failed at whatever.
  2.  Next, think about what the person was telling you. What was the message you were getting? This is the real gem… you have just been given the key to that person’s biggest fears about himself.
  3.  Flip the script. Take the critical statement and complete the following sentence fragment. “My biggest fear is that I…..”

Here are 2 examples:

If the N-PC was: “You never complete projects”.

The Flip is: “My biggest fear is that I never complete projects”.

If the N-PC was: “You are a terrible team leader, people don’t like you”.

The Flip is: “My biggest fear is that I am a terrible team leader and people don’t like me”.

Getting the picture? When people hand us some vague critical “suggestion” or comment, they are usually telling us more about their own biggest fears than about anything that has anything to do with us.

Take This to The Bank!

So now that you know where it’s coming from you can actually do something useful with it.

Be compassionate!


That person standing in front of you who just got you feeling angry, hurt or frustrated….. needs your ultimate compassion!

Think about it…. unknowingly they just let out their dirty little secret to you, they told you their biggest fear about themselves and they would be mortified to find out that you knew this about them.

This is where real compassion comes in and can be a total game-changer.

By taking the time to see the fear that drives that other person, you can work with them instead of bashing heads. Imagine that person as a 5 year old who just told you she was scared of something. How would you react in that moment? What could you say or do to allay her fears. What do you know about being a scared kid who just wanted something to turn out right, like getting that ice cream or winning the game?

Compassion Wins Every Time.

By being compassionate and not reacting in the moment, you have flipped the script, bought yourself time to remain calm and grounded and totally stepped into your own power.

You have create a space to choose what you want to do next. By seeing the critical statement for what it is, you are now in control of what happens next. You can choose to escalate the issue by snapping off some nasty comment in return, you can slink off to hide, or……

You can let the person know that you hear their concerns and are willing to continue talking to them in order to get more information about what they see going on.

What you are aiming for is actual, useful information from them. What you are giving them is an acknowledgement that someone heard what they were afraid of. You don’t need to tell them that you know they are scared or to point out their biggest fear to them. By acknowledging what they tell you, you are letting them know that someone hears them and is compassionate enough to listen and work with them. The more you can offer to talk it out, the more you’ll know about what they actually want. And isn’t knowledge the key to everything?

As you talk, you’ll also be getting better information for yourself about what change they are actually asking for. You don’t have to throw yourself under the bus, just see where you might be able to do some or all of what they want while still maintaining your own value. You are in control of making the conversation about compromise and team-work, rather than about  a “he said/ she said” series of demands hiding behind the criticisms.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

It does take some practice. Like any skill worth learning, and believe me… this one it TOTALLY worth mastering… you’ve got to be willing to practice this over and over and over until it becomes second-nature to you.

The good news is that once you have it down, it’s your’s forever, Like riding a bicycle… you’ll always be able to find the best ways to handle criticism in any situation and from any person. Even better, you’ll probably find yourself easing up on yourself and others.

That will win you new friends and you’ll be feeling happier to boot!