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Criticism – A gift wrapped in Shit

“Criticism” comes from the Greek word krino, which means “able to judge, value, interpret.”

Can often be helpful, especially once we get past the angst.  Really though, it can be near on impossible to keep everyone happy, further it can be hard to get some tough love from those around us.

Whereas ideation suggests deferring judgment, the art of criticism innovates through judgment. Roberto Verganti

Criticism can be upsetting, especially if our amygdala comes into play – the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  Making us feel like counter attaching the person, feeling shocked and not knowing what to do, potentially walking out.

Evaluations tell you where you stand, what to expect, and what is expected of you. Coaching allows you to learn and improve and helps you play at a higher level.  Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

Whenever I have given formal warnings, or delivered bad news, the recipients have generally not taken in much after the core of the message.  It can take several breaks or attempts to have a productive conversation.


Therefore, there are some ideas that can help when we receive it, as how we react can determine if we get the benefit of negative feedback in the future.

  1. Ready for our triggers – criticism is inevitable, especially if we invite feedback and buy in and sharing our take on the future. Awareness of how we react is key to getting the most from the opportunity. Often the provider is nervous and can quickly backpedal if we are not managing our state.
  2. Seek understanding – see what the concerns are and how they could be potentially alleviated. Separating the personalities from the substance to avoid misunderstandings and find common ground.
  3. Compare and collect feedback, verify the issues. We have to decide if it is a concern and how much, to prioritise it in the context of our work.
  4. Take the criticism in context, it is easy to say it is not personal, but to be fair it is not like getting from spouse or friends. We need the good and the bad to get validation about how we show up.
  5. Take time to reflect and review. Exercise can be a fantastic way to assist our brains and use as reflection time. This gives us the opportunity to reconsider and find a new way forward.
  6. Seeking assistance from a capable coach, preferably one that can have robust conversations and explore what is being received and how we have responded to it. Also infrequently asking for tips and pointers from our colleagues can greatly assist.
  7. Acting on the feedback – working towards improving the way we work and making changes rewards the feedback given and shows out interest in lifting our game. Like asking questions and patiently waiting, encouraging and confirming before offering our opinions can make the world of difference in our working relationships.


Your growth depends on your ability to pull value from criticism in spite of your natural responses and on your willingness to seek out even more advice and coaching from bosses, peers, and subordinates.  Heen and Stone

With thanks to Jussi Lukkonen who inspired this article.  To Sabina Narwaz whose writings I greatly appreciated.

Photo credit – hello I am Nik on Unsplash



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