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How To Handle Criticism Well

How To Handle Criticism Well

We’ve all been in that situation: you’ve submitted or done something and then there comes the feedback. Most of the time, it’s incredibly justified and helps you become better at the task at hand, but sometimes there is some that knocks you completely out of left field and makes you just blink and react in shock. “They said what?”

Rather than going down the two most natural and disparate courses of action available—sobbing with despair and with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or yelling that the critic doesn’t know what on Earth they’re talking about—it’s worth taking a moment and considering some of these five ways to handle this most awkward of personal situations.

Step 1: Take a step back from yourself

It’s easily the first step in handling this with some grace and decorum—just take a step back. When the critique form slides across your desk or when those comments have hit home, you really need to remove yourself mentally from the situation, if not physically.

The most instant reaction we experience when it comes to critiquing is anger. Rage. Frustration. Sadness. The key is not to relinquish or suppress these emotions—it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel angry or upset at criticism—but to take a step back and allow them to wash over you. Take a coffee break for five minutes and just feel. Lose yourself in another activity if you have that option—see a movie, go to a concert, have a soak in the tub or watch that awesome show you’ve been meaning to catch up on. Remove yourself from that environment and that feeling for a while so you can gain some perspective and objective distance.

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When you’re done, the anger and rage might still be there, but you’ll have dialed it down from potentially yelling at your boss, yelling at your friends, your family, to being able to see with some clarity of vision through the red haze.

Step 2: See it from another point of view

The point is this: chances are when you’re getting some criticism, it’s coming from a place of good intentions. “How on Earth can such good intentions lead to someone criticizing the hell out of you?”, you might wonder.

In a work environment, idle gossip born from close proximity and bored minds is just that, so real constructive criticism is just that. Chances are if your boss or manager has told you what you’re doing wrong or how you’re doing it wrong, they’re not taking any kind of malicious Schaudenfreude-esque pleasure in your suffering. They’re just trying to do their jobs which involves making the running of the company smoother and ironing out any of the areas you might need a bit of work with.

The same applies to friends. They’re your friends for a reason, they like and love you, and unless they’re one of those toxic ‘frenemies’, any criticisms on their side are probably designed to help you. Of course you don’t have to take their advice, and if they’re real friends, they’ll keep on loving you regardless, but sometimes their well-intentioned advice is worth at least considering from their point of view. Maybe it’s so you can be the best version of yourself. Who knows, but taking it from their point of view might have some merits.

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Step 3: See it as an untapped strength

Say you’ve got a problem area at work. You’re not as diligent at filling out the paperwork, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ or maybe you’re not as huge a social media maven as you should be. That’s fine, it’s okay, but in the face of criticism, a key step might be in actively trying to transform that skill into something useful and marketable.

It might even be worth seeing it as a great opportunity for an untapped strength. Just because you haven’t focused on it yet doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. You have a fantastic opportunity ahead of you to make something that will improve your life in the long run, taking a bit longer to do that paperwork or even asking a colleague for advice on it, or looking at how other companies work well at their social media presence to fix your flaws. You’ll earn a lot more respect for being able to take on advice and do so while looking as cool and classy as hell.

Step 4: Work on the criticism as a challenge

This ties in a lot with the previous point but tackle this criticism as a challenge and as a conscious effort to change. Break it down in smaller and smaller tasks, such as speaking to your manager about what kind of targets they want you to hit or grabbing a coffee with a friend and asking them candidly, and make some concrete, physical ‘to-do’ lists so that you can tick them off as you work through them.

Not only will this make tackling the criticism seem infinitely more manageable, it’ll also ensure that you can celebrate all those little victories. Boosted your social media profile today? Go and have a scoop or two on us. Been a bit more social with your inner circle? Congratulate yourself and give yourself a treat.

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Working on your ‘problem areas’ isn’t something you have to do, at all, but it might make you feel better for at least having tried and if you succeed, all the better. Take your victories one-by-one as you learn and grow. After all, tackling a mountain is much easier when you break it down into ten-minute climbs rather than the whole mountain, after all.

Step 5: Move on and look ahead

This is the final step and something that people find hard to do sometimes: just move on. Let it go.

While there is a remote possibility that your boss or friend or manager or whoever was maybe too harsh or critical on you, the point is how you react to it. Getting caught up and trapped in the machinations of it will only leave you to mope and mire through it, making you question every decision you’ve made, every interaction or choice or whatever.

Let it go and look to the future. I once had a job where I was critiqued on a regular, daily basis for things that I just didn’t understand or felt appropriate and it had such a negative impact on me that I had to get myself out of that environment and I had to force myself to examine how I looked at criticism. I learned that while those terrible, incompatible job experiences are few and far between, that feeling of dread when constructive criticism is offered can always remain, lurking in the background.

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So I had to learn to move on. Your friend offering a bit of critical examination does not invalidate your years-long friendship. Your boss telling you that you need to work on something doesn’t wipe away all that awesome work you’ve spent the past six months doing. Moving on does not mean cutting off that bond or walking out of your job, unless that friendship or work environment is so toxic it’s more trouble than its worth to stay.

Move on and show growth and maturity. Getting hung up on this kind of stuff is something that expends a lot of time and energy and something you don’t really want to get involved. Don’t let anything hold you back and while a piece of criticism might seem utterly soul-crushing, it’s okay. You’ll be okay.

We have all been there and in the end, it doesn’t matter so much what that criticism is, but how you take it. After all, take that criticism with some humility and quiet grace, and you’ll come out looking the bigger person and feel better for it. Promise.

More by this author

Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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