Nobody’s perfect, but that doesn’t make negative feedback easier to take. Here are some ways to embrace the helpful parts of others’ critiques, to grow into the best version of you yet.

Why is it so hard to take critical or negative feedback?

To start, there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling frustrated and uncomfortable when receiving criticism. It is an inherently difficult thing to hear! No one likes to have their flaws pointed out to them, or be asked to change. You’re certainly not alone in this struggle.

When receiving negative feedback, many of us take it very personally. Comments or suggestions can feel like a direct attack on our personhood, leading to shame, anger, or embarrassment.

However, criticism more often comes from the other person’s needs or insecurities. Also, it is often aimed at a specific behavior, not your entire self.

How can I take negative feedback less personally and more productively?

When we open ourselves up to feedback, it opens up many doors for us in return. Criticism offers a vital opportunity for growth, and when we grow as people, we grow towards our goals. Not to mention, it takes a little extra stress off our shoulders, knowing we’re not at some great fault for making a simple human mistake!

1. Notice state vs. trait thinking

It’s easy to take negative feedback as an offense to who you are. But much of the time, it’s only a comment on one specific thing you did–not who you are as a person. This is often referred to as state vs. trait thinking. State thinking means this problem is temporary. Trait thinking means that a mistake is who you are and always will be.

Here are some examples of how you can reframe criticism to remember it’s not about who you are as a person.

What they say: “I don’t like the design on this.”
What you hear: You suck at design. (trait)
What was meant: Your design didn’t meet that person’s standards–this time. (state)

This happened, not because you lacked the capability, but because you did not know exactly what was desired. And unless you can read minds (which, I’d go out on a limb and guess you can’t), that’s perfectly understandable.

Recognize that this feedback is not against you as a whole, and offers a great opportunity to grow. If you ask which standards of theirs weren’t met, you can remember for next time, and blow it out of the water! 

What they say: “Could you wait until I finish talking to speak?”
What you hear: You’re selfish and uncaring.
What was meant: You just didn’t notice that you interrupted. And, they trusted you enough to express their discomfort. 

Negative feedback often feels more severe when coming from someone we care about–whether in a personal or professional situation. We didn’t mean to hurt them, and knowing we did is a very hard pill to swallow. 

But, recognize that you are not a bad person because of this one behavior. You are more than just a bad habit. By separating yourself from what’s being critiqued, you can not only be more receptive to feedback, but potentially be a better employee, friend, or partner.

2. Cool off before proceeding

Despite the best intentions of both parties, even constructive feedback can feel offensive. When you feel that negative sting, it’s hard to act like you’re not affected. What if you feel hurt, dismissed, misunderstood, judged, or even attacked?

You won’t be able to derive anything productive from constructive feedback while stuck in your (valid) negative emotions. So, if you need to step back and cool down for a minute, that’s perfectly okay! 

Consider the following statements:

“I think I need a moment to process this feedback in a productive way. Can I get back to you about next steps?”

“I appreciate that you shared these feelings with me. However, I feel a little caught off guard. Would you mind if we talk about this again, same time tomorrow?”

“I want to respond as helpfully as possible, so I need a little more time to process this conversation. Is that ok?”

By carving out this time to calm your reaction, you open yourself up to hearing the feedback in the constructive tone that was intended. When you can recognize feedback as not an attack, but rather, an opportunity to grow, it becomes much easier to digest and process.

3. View negative feedback in a positive light when possible

While it may be difficult to separate negative feedback from a personal attack, you might actually find encouragement in doing so. 

When someone highlights a certain behavior they think could be changed, challenge thoughts like “I am not good enough” with ones such as, “I can do better.” If the other person thought you were not capable, they wouldn’t bother giving feedback in the first place.

Thinking like this can help you slip into more of a growth mindset than a fixed one. With a growth mindset, we are able to view mistakes and missteps as mere opportunities for improvement. This nudges us towards greater achievement, because it emphasizes that we are always growing, changing and advancing as human beings. 

4. Remember: negative feedback happens to everyone

Lastly, a simple sentiment to keep in mind is everybody receives negative feedback now and then. While our personal goals, standards and expectations may drive us to be the best at everything we do, receiving criticism is perfectly natural, inevitable, and most importantly, human

Think about it: when you were a child, could you do half of the things you are capable of doing now? Probably not, right? That is because you had to learn and grow in order to get where you are now (which is quite the accomplished place, mind you). 

While it may be daunting to accept that we’ll never stop learning, let it take some of that pressure off your shoulders. And remember: just because you always have room for improvement, does not mean you’re not capable now. 

Find more tips for accepting negative or critical feedback in this Twitter thread.

Concluding remarks

Negative feedback is one of the less thrilling parts of life, but a part of life nonetheless. While criticism may never be completely easy to take, by shifting your perspective into one more positive, separating yourself from the critiqued behavior, and remembering you’re only human, you’ll be able to take it like a champ the next time it comes.