Lesson 9: How to Deal With Criticism

This week’s life lesson is about how to deal with criticism. Why does dealing with criticism come naturally to some, whereas for others, it\’s much more difficult? I share my tips on how to make it a little easier.


Dealing with criticism is part and parcel of any job or hobby. I wanted to ask Bryan to write about what it’s like to receive criticism as an author, and his tips for dealing with it. He has several editors for his novels, and then of course there’s me, but actually I’m pretty terrible at asking for things.

My emails are usually phrased something like this: “Oh, sorry, but would it be okay if you just re-wrote these few sentences?”. Followed by a long and probably unnecessary explanation of exactly why I think it would be better written differently…

Maybe I need to write an article about giving criticism, too. Although, I think it’s likely that my unwillingness to give harsh critique is just another way of avoiding criticism in itself. It’s something like imposter syndrome; what right do I have to tell them that they should structure that sentence in a different way? (Despite having literally studied linguistics at university and written non-stop ever since.)


I think if you searched all of my articles for the most common word, it would be “anyway”. I do love a tangent, and this is always my chosen word to get back on topic. (If you read my columns often, you will know this already).

When I went to set this topic for Bryan, I realised two things:

1) I have a lot to say on this topic myself, so I stole the idea. Sorry, Bryan!

2) Dealing with criticism is something you’ll come across in just about every walk of life. Although you probably deal with it more than average as a writer, it’s a very broad subject for a very niche column. But who knows, maybe he’ll read this article and decide he wants to weigh in, too!

Growing Up Sensitive to Criticism

When I was in reception at school (ages 4-5, for anyone who didn’t grow up in the UK), I was my teacher’s favourite. She LOVED me, I could do no wrong in her eyes, and she even let me be Mary in the Christmas nativity show. But, even through her rose-tinted glasses, she said to my parents on parents’ evening: She really doesn’t like to be told off, does she?

I was a sensitive kid, and this carried over into my teenage years and eventually into adulthood, too. I couldn’t stand to be told that I’d done something wrong. I would get incredibly defensive and scramble to find some reason to prove that I *hadn’t* done something wrong, because I couldn’t bear this sick feeling that I’d let someone down.

It was all about me, about not feeling good enough, and about needing to be perfect. But, if you take a look from an outward perspective, that’s really the worst reaction someone can have.

Eventually I learned this, although it took me years; it’s not something you can just fix overnight.

If you’re the kind of person that gets defensive when you’re told you’re wrong, know this: I understand you, and it really is so hard when you feel this constant need to be perfect, but life gets easier when you learn to be wrong.

The Benefits of Acceptance

When you can put your hands up and say “I’m sorry, I was wrong, and I’ll learn from this next time”, it does several things. (And these things apply to anything, from putting a comma in the wrong place to making a proper, real-life fuck up.)

  1. You accept it and move on quicker. Although the feeling of *not being perfect* is much stronger in the beginning, it goes away much more quickly. You accept it and you move on, instead of spending hours or days or weeks rolling over it in your mind, convincing yourself you were right when really, deep down, you know you weren’t. (Okay, maybe this is a bit dramatic if it was just about a comma. But you get me.)
  2. The person or people critiquing you feel validated. Not only is this nice for them, it makes you look better, too. It’s much nicer for them to be greeted with humble understanding than defensiveness and rejection.
  3. You learn from your mistakes. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you did nothing wrong, you’ll live in your own echo chamber. You won’t learn, you won’t change, and you won’t grow into the best version of yourself.

This is a harsh chat I have to have with myself regularly. (Like I said, it’s not something that comes overnight.) Some people seem to have this innate ability to put their hands up and waltz straight through the three steps above, but not me. It takes a lot to swallow my pride, but it’s always worth it, in the end.

Other things to remember when you’re dealing with criticism:

The person critiquing you probably wants the best for you. Whether they’re giving you feedback on some work or telling you that, actually, the joke went too far and it was NOT funny, they’re only trying to bring out the best in you.

A one-time critique shouldn’t change a person’s opinion of you (and if it does, that’s their problem).

Put yourself in their shoes: imagine yourself giving this exact critique to someone else. It doesn’t feel like such a big deal now, right? Stepping out of the situation always helps to put things into perspective.

At the end of the day, this is what works for me, but everybody is different. (I’m certain there are people who will read this article and be surprised that dealing with criticism would be difficult at all.)

What works for you?

3 thoughts on “Lesson 9: How to Deal With Criticism”

  1. This was so useful; receiving criticism (especially when not seeking it out for constructive purposes) can feel quite negative and a bit jarring. I think it’s this type in particular that I react most strongly to. Thanks for sharing this!

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