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Responding to criticism is difficult. The other day I received an email letting me know that a paper I had submitted was rejected. The editor and reviewers had a lot of feedback about all the problems and issues with the paper.

At first, I was mad. I had spent a lot of time and energy on that paper, and I thought it was pretty good. But instead of talking about the merits of the paper, the reviewers pointed out all the things that were wrong with it.

My natural reaction to criticism is to ignore it or deny it. “I’m just not going to look at that email for awhile,” I told myself. “Those reviewers don’t know what they’re talking about,” I grumbled.

Maybe you have a similar reaction to criticism. I think it’s pretty normal. Most of us are invested in having a positive view of ourselves, so when we hear criticism, we want to get away from it. It’s almost as if we worry that if we consider the criticism too long, we might realize there is some truth in it.

The problem with ignoring or denying criticism is that it doesn’t help us at all. If we are open to it, feedback can be a gift for us. We aren’t always aware of how we come across, or how our actions are perceived by others. The only way to get this information is to listen to feedback and criticism, sit with it, and be open to what it might teach us.

Here are 6 steps I have found to be helpful when responding to criticism:

  1. Take your time. Don’t respond to criticism right away. Immediately after I receive criticism, I can get angry or upset. This usually isn’t the best time to think and consider what I might learn from the criticism. I’m better at responding after I take some time to cool down.
  2. Normalize criticism. I think some people struggle with criticism because they think it shouldn’t happen. Perfectionists seem to especially struggle with this. It’s important to view criticism as a normal part of life. You aren’t perfect—and that’s okay. Criticism is part of the normal ups and downs of life.
  3. Understand criticism is usually a mix of their stuff and your stuff. When I get reactive and criticize or judge another person, usually there is something about me that is getting triggered. In a similar way, when someone criticizes you, it generally isn’t all about you. Usually there is something about the person who is doing the criticizing that got triggered. Understanding this can take the edge off of criticism.
  4. Test criticism. When you receive criticism, test it out with yourself and others. Does the criticism ring true to you? When you check it out with people who care about you and can be honest with you, do they see any merit in the criticism? Or is the criticism way off base?
  5. Let it go. If there are aspects of the criticism that don’t ring true, even when you honestly check it out with yourself and others, let it go. There’s no reason to hang on to inaccurate criticism. Let it go and move on.
  6. View criticism as a gift. However, if there are aspects of the criticism that did ring true, try to see if you can view the criticism as a gift. Remember, we can only change what we are aware of. There might be something about the criticism that you can use and incorporate in your life. You might be able to make a change based on this criticism that will improve your life and situation.

Discussion: How do you respond to criticism? Do you try to avoid criticism or deny it? What do you think about the 6 steps and viewing criticism as a gift?