How to Respond to Criticism and Get Something out of it

How to Respond to Criticism and Get Something out of it
Francisco Pérez

Written and verified by the psychologist Francisco Pérez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

But letting someone’s criticism affect you so much isn’t a good idea, especially if it’s unjustified. Instead of getting defensive, it’s much better if you respond to criticism assertively. That way you can get something out of it and prevent it from harming you in any way.

Firstly, it’s really important to ask yourself some questions about other people’s criticism. It can be painful, but not everyone actually means to hurt you. For example, what’s their goal by criticizing you? Why are they doing it? What are their reasons?

If someone criticizes you and you don’t stop to think why this person is so angry, or what lead them to react that way, you’ll most likely just go on the defensive. But if you don’t let your impulses carry you away and calm down, everything will go much more smoothly. When you’re in a tranquil state of mind, you’ll always see these kinds of situations differently. Maybe this other person isn’t so wrong…

You could also decide that the person criticizing you is wrong, but not express that thought. In the end you accept what they’re telling you. All that does is make it easier for them to manipulate you. On top of that, your self-esteem will go down because you’re not respecting yourself.

Facing up to criticism

When someone doesn’t know how to take criticism, they usually react by making excuses (“yeah, but…”). They try to avoid it at all costs. There are also those people who accept it on the surface but aren’t convinced they need to change.

All of these attitudes towards criticism are harmful, because they see it as a kind of attack. So that means you’ll probably end up feeling bad, and won’t be able to learn anything from it.

How to take criticism

If you learn to react calmly to criticism, that means you’ll be learning to control your negative emotionsWhen you’re in a calm state of mind you can pay better attention to what they’re saying and get something out of it. That’s the only way you’ll be able to understand their intentions and determine whether they were bad or not.

So criticism is constructive. You can learn from it and use it to improve yourself. Plus, if it was good criticism but the other person didn’t know how to express it, you can show them the right way to do that. It will help keep your relationship intact.

On the other hand, they might be trying to manipulate you. The best response to that isn’t anger or rage, though. You need to be able to express what you’re thinking and feeling assertively, calmly, and peacefully. In fact, if you don’t react angrily, you won’t give them any sign of your weak spots.

If the other person is right and you were wrong, the best thing you can do is correct yourself. But if that’s not the case, you should stand firm by your opinion. If they keep it up, it’s best just to keep your nose out of it.

When you’re calm in the face of a criticism, you can walk out of a situation that’s usually unpleasant with your head held high. Responding assertively will help you not feel attacked, and it will protect your self-esteem.

How to successfully respond to criticism

Hearing criticism isn’t pleasant. That’s even more true when you think what someone’s telling you is true. So we’re going to show you how to successfully respond to criticism, and get the most out of it.

The first step after receiving criticism is to analyze it and change your internal monologue (what you say and think in your head). For example, you can tell yourself something like this, “I don’t have to prove anything because no one is attacking me. Listen carefully, because what they’re saying could be useful. Try to understand what they want. Just because they’re criticizing me doesn’t mean I’ve failed completely.” 

The next thing you have to do is evaluate their criticism. That will help you figure out if you need to change your behavior, or if it’s best to constructively reject what they said to you. To do this, you should think deeply about these things:

  • Ask yourself who’s doing the criticism. Are they qualified? Do they know you well enough? Do they know what they’re talking about?
  • What goal does this other person have in mind with their criticism? It could be to make you feel bad. But it could also be to try and reach some agreement, or to let you know something that bothers them so you can change it.
  • Ask yourself if it’s a criticism you get often. Is this the first time I’m hearing it or have other people said the same thing?
  • How much energy should I spend on changing myself because of this criticism? Maybe it’s not worth it…
  • Think about the emotional atmosphere. The other person might have been angry, so maybe you shouldn’t take it so seriously. Thinking of their emotions can help you see the situation in a different light. We all say things we don’t mean when we’re angry. Sometimes it’s best not to make a big deal out of it.
The keys to a successful response to criticism are active listening and managing your internal monologue. That way, later on, you can figure out a response from a place of calmness and peace.
hands of two people talking about a criticism

What do you do if the criticism is right?

If the answer to whether it’s a good criticism is a yes, then there are a few different things you can do. Here they are:

  • Control your emotions. It’s best not to get angry. You need to manage how you feel.
  • Don’t be defensive about the criticism. If what they say is true, then there’s no need to be defensive. If you get that way, you’re just wasting time and energy.
  • Listen actively. The right way to react is to listen actively. In other words, you have to pay attention to their message to truly understand what they’re telling you. This will help you respond to their criticism appropriately.
  • Ask for more information and look for things that can help you change. This means finding alternatives, not getting angry.
  • Sum up what they said to make sure you understood it. Do a summary at the end and ask them if you understood everything they said.
  • Create a strategy for change. Plan things and start acting in a way that will help you change.

As you can see there are two basic ways to respond to criticism. If it’s not right, then you should put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It’s important to try to understand why they’re criticizing you. If the criticism is justified, then it’s best to be assertive. That way you can improve on whatever they’re criticizing you about.


Goleman, D. Working with Emotional Intelligence. A&C Black. 1998.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.