How to receive and use criticism effectively?

Everyone will be criticized for some reason or other. It is perceived, for a leader, it is easy to give than to receive criticism. Since leaders are visible in organizations, are more often at the receiving end of criticism than others. Therefore, it is important for a leader to learn how to handle criticisms and make the best use of it for personal and organizational improvement.

Criticisms are like lemons, when its thrown at you makes lemonade with it, says an unknown author.  Criticisms are an expression of disapproval of someone  based on perceived faults or mistakes. They are constructive when received well and used effectively for personal and organizational improvement. Since there is enough discussed in leadership training about how to give criticism, I choose to deal with how to receive and use criticism effectively for improvement.

How to Handle Criticism and Critics:

Be Brave: There is no point avoiding critics or criticism, there is no way one can duck it. One must face criticisms well and try to make the best use of it constructively. The more one tries to avoid it the more it provokes the critics to be offensive and attack more.

Be Open: Have an open mind to listen at least, not opposing or rejecting criticism outright, it makes the critics calm down than provoke.  It is easy to listen to criticism if it comes from a higher source or influential than the receiver, but a leader must listen to all. It is not at all wise to disregard a criticism just because it is given by someone who is considered not worth listening.

Be willing: Every criticism does not require rebuttals but a patient hearing and willingness to do something about it. The effective use of criticism is not in the one who gives it but what one does with it having received one. Instead of defending, have willingness to work at it even though one may totally dislike it.

Be Friendly: When criticism is given, avoid taking it into heart and developing negativity towards the person who gives it. Instead, don’t bothered so much, let it not be a seed for a conflict, above all let it not change attitude towards the person who criticized.

How to use criticism for Improvement:

Effective use of criticism is not in the one who gives it but what one does with it having received one. Therefore, it is important for a leader to learn how to make the best use of it for personal and organizational improvement.

  • Use your critics to your advantage: Critics and criticisms can be constructive if a leader learns how to make best use of them. They are watchers and source insights as to know what is going wrong and how outsiders perceive a leader’s decisions and action, but one must not be takeover by the attitude and hostility of the person criticizing.
  • Discern and Differentiate: Not all criticisms are unjust or biased, nor all criticisms are good tips for personal and organizational improvement. Discern why and what of the criticism first instead of who and when of the criticism, though who and when do make sense at times. Differentiate personal or professional or any other reason that is the cause of criticism.
  • Use criticisms constructively:  A leader can use criticism constructively cheer one’s spirit and boost one’s resolve to get things right rather than get emotional about it and breed negativity. More often, criticisms do point out at some of the important aspects that are neglected in personal or organizational life over a period.
  • Don’t waste time: Criticisms are good insight to know what others are thinking and why they dislike or disagree, but they cannot dictate priorities. Don’t waste your time attending to every issue addressed, pick the right issues. Every criticism is not useful, but everything cannot be squashed. One has to listen and evaluate the merit of the issue and give attentions to those that need one’s time and energy.
  • Value criticism objectively: Value the merit of criticism based on issues and problems addressed and their importance in getting things right to bringing desired improvement in personal and organizational life and not according to the priorities of the critics.  Don’t indulge in justifying or rationalizing, instead focus on identifying alternatives and workable solutions to improve things or overcome shortcomings.
  • Focus on Issues and Solutions: Criticisms do not give readymade solutions to issues but they can definitely point the right direction. It gives a leader an outsiders’ perspective and give valuable insights on what is going wrong or why others think things are not working. One must use those insights to improve communication or deal with issues effectively.
  •  Seek Clarification when necessary: Seek clarification when needed, when a criticism is vague but it deal with an important matter, then without hesitation seek clarification to get to bottom of things. Expand your thinking, discover more about the issue, and use criticism to add dimensions to your thinking, use critics as source of information.
  • Demonstrate Commitment: when issues are serious and they need to be attended, a leader must give assurance, calms the emotions of those who criticize, actively listen to their concerns, communicate sincerity, work towards winning their confidence, communicate one’s understanding of the urgency of the situation, and demonstrate commitment through action. A leader cannot win over every critic but can definitely settle issues to bring the needed change in personal and organizational life; at least the issues will be settled.


Sudhakar I. Prabu brings rich experience of career spanning over 20 plus years which includes leadership role in three start-ups. He has successfully planned and executed enterprise-wide management strategies in performance improvement, leadership development, learning and development, and change management, as well as facilitated leadership excellence workshops for Business Managers, Functional Managers, and Middle level managers. He can be contacted at sudhakar(at)tpmc.in

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