No one likes criticism, and why should we? By its very nature, criticism means that something is missing, that you have flaws, that someone has found you lacking. Even constructive criticism, given with every intent to help you rather than harm you, can plant seeds of doubt in your head. What if I can’t get better? What if I’m just not good enough?

Unfortunately, if you never receive criticism, you put yourself in the dangerous position of never improving. That’s fine if you’re the definitive expert at what you do, but for most of us, we’re working hard to get better at something every day. It would be great if we could criticize ourselves, but it generally takes an objective person to give us solid tips to improve.

Just because you don’t like criticism, doesn’t mean you can’t learn to leverage it. Here are a few tips on how to effectively handle criticism:

Consider the source.

All criticism is not created equal. An expert giving you useful tips on how to improve should be given much more weight than a well-meaning friend who simply says “keep trying.” Find people who are where you want to be, and consider their suggestions more carefully than someone who can’t relate to your situation. Better yet, get a mentor that you can always talk to when you have questions.

Seek out actionable advice.

Ever been told by a teacher, manager, or friend that something you did “just isn’t good enough?” That’s the worst kind of criticism. You can’t improve if no one gives you concrete advice. Instead, dig deeper and figure out why something isn’t good enough. Learn specifically what you need to do to improve, such as work on your editorial skills or take a class on public speaking.

Listen for repeat advice.

If you receive criticism from multiple, credible sources, you may find certain pieces of advice emerging from each source. You should focus your efforts on those areas to improve. If you choose not to follow advice that’s been given from different sources, you run the risk of hearing it over and over until you finally do give it a try.

Don’t try to improve all areas equally.

You may hear some random feedback from a credible source that your instinct tells you is bogus. Listen to your gut in this case. Realistically, you don’t have the time to improve all aspects of yourself, so you need to divide and conquer. Focus on improving areas that you think need improvement. Table the nit-picky (and even potentially unnecessary) advice for now, and create a plan of improvement that makes the most sense to you.

Try again.

Fail miserably the first time you received feedback? That’s okay. If you have actionable advice, then follow your action plan for improvement, and then try again. We learn best when we try things several times, so whenever possible, get criticism from the same person as before. If you start hearing new tips for improvement, you know you’re getting better.

Most importantly, don’t let criticism get you down.

It’s easy to get wound up in the throes of self-improvement. You might feel that you’ll never get to where you want to be or there’s too much to learn. Relax. Everyone started out as a beginner at one point. Don’t let the journey warp your self-esteem. Instead, enjoy the ride of what you’re doing, knowing you’re getting better all the time.

How do you handle criticism? Please share your experiences and advice in the comments below.

Photo by Patrick Metzdorf

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is the Director of Educational Outreach for Spotkin, an educational games company that marries fun with learning.  She’s also the founder of Avalon Labs, which provides marketing consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses.   She carves out a significant portion of her time to raising her two younger daughters.

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