“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks” – Shannon L. Alder

Criticism is a part of life whether we like it or not. We have all been on the receiving end as well as the “dolling out” end of criticism. Of course, in our human finite minds, we may have felt entirely justified in dishing out criticism – at the time. And our words, once they go out, do not return. When we have been criticized, it most probably did not create feelings of joy and enthusiasm. Most likely we felt incompetent or even unworthy, but most certainly the criticism did not make us feel on top of the world.

Some people talk about constructive criticism versus unconstructive criticism. Is there really a good side to criticism? Honestly, I really don’t know and I am not going to get into analyzing semantics here. but let’s talk about why we criticize what we can do with it.

Why Do We Criticize?

Criticism comes naturally to us. We all know that humans are egocentric. We love to talk about ourselves and we love to focus on ourselves, in general, more than anyone or anything else. So it should come as no surprise that the three main reasons we criticize involve how we see ourselves versus how we see others.

  • We expect others to be perfect (but not ourselves)

  • We are impatient when people fail to meet our standards

  • We want to appear smarter than others

Some other more specific reasons that people criticize

  • Insecurity

  • A need for attention

  • Feeling threatened

  • Frustration

  • A lack of social skills

  • Trying to help

  • A need to control

  • A need to test you

As we can see, people criticize largely out of selfish concerns expressed through emotions. Sometimes, but not always, criticism can be done altruistically from a sincere desire to help. but this is not usually the case. Humans are far too self-centered for that.  We spend most of our time focused on what we want and how we feel and the rest of the time on how others perceive us. We spend a lot of time projecting onto others while protecting ourselves.

Somehow we think that offering or dishing out criticism will make us look better and smarter. We believe that it will somehow help us climb up the social ladder to a level of recognition (which is what most people ultimately want to have). And, we don,t always do our criticizing directly. Often we lack the courage to be direct so we choose the insidious indirect pat of criticizing behind people’s backs: gossiping. However we do it, criticism is criticism and it is still done to:

  • protect ourselves

  • promote ourselves

Whether at the office standing around the coffee machine complaining about the boss in his or her absence or anywhere else, it is still criticism and it is still gossip.  Gossip (indirect criticism) is even more alluring than direct criticism because it is both pleasing the receiver (the hearer) and to the one gossiping. That is why it is called juicy gossip.


What’s Wrong With Criticism?

It usually makes people feel defensive

It focuses on what is wrong

It can  be perceived as blame

It focuses on one flaw rather than the whole person

It is a projection of what we don’t like in ourselves

How Does Criticism Hurt us?


Contrary to what we might think, criticizing actually hurts the one who criticizes. It actually doesn’t really help anybody since it doesn’t help a person or a situation to move forward but rather keeps people entrapped in what is wrong together with the negative emotions involved. The more that we criticize others, the more we are actually criticizing and judging ourselves. Usually, there is something that we don’t like about ourselves and, rather than confront this issue, we project out onto others trying to find fault with them. And, of course, the issue doesn’t get resolved. In fact, it may get worse.

Pause and Get Some Perspective 

Take a deep breath and pause. Recognize that a critical spirit is really just judging themselves. I know this sounds easier to say than to do, especially in the heat of emotions. Relax. We are all learning together. These are just helpful thoughts. The problem with criticism is not really the criticism itself but what we believe as a result.   Is what is being said based on reality or perception? At the end of the day, it is not really any of our business how people perceive us or even what they say to us.

With this being said, it is important to listen to what has been said in the form of criticism to see if there are any grains of truth buried in all the words and emotions. Take these grains, ponder on them and see what can be done about them on your own time, not in the heat of battle.

How to Handle Criticism

1 .Listen

Listen to criticism. Look for what is really being said behind the words and emotions. Look for the grains of truth.

2. Avoid Rationalizing

rationalizing when given criticism. Just accept it and deal with it. Rationalizing simply takes away your credibility and any respect a person may have for you.

3, Don’t Make Excuses

Don’t make excuses and don’t shift the focus. Doing so will only portray you as guilty and deserving of the criticism rather than a person of integrity. It is better to ask specific questions to inquire about the criticism leveled towards you.

4, Learn

Learn from the situation. You are not right all the time. sometimes other people are right and you are wrong. learn what you can change or improve.

5. Don’t Sidestep

Don’t sidestep the issue or try to somehow diminish it or make it disappear. It probably won’t disappear and may even come up again later.

6. Don’t shift the blame

Don’t shift the blame onto others or circumstances. And don’t bring up old (forgotten) and unrelated offenses. Just accept and apply if necessary.

Author and speaker John Maxwell writes in his book Leadership Gold, in the chapter entitled: When You Get Kicked in the Rear, You know You’re Out in Front, four important preventative steps to handling criticism.

1. Know Yourself

He says that (at least in leadership) you know you are going to be criticized. be prepared. It is important to know what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are. Identify them and accept that they are a part of you.

2. Change Yourself

Knowing who you are with all your strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies is half the battle. It is now important to change or improve what needs to be changed or improved. work on your strengths in order to diminish your weaknesses.

3. Accept Yourself

You are who you are. Don’t worry so much about the opinions of others regarding you. Instead, develop the confidence that comes from knowing yourself – your strengths and your weakness. When you have this confidence you don’t need affirmation from others.

4. Forget Yourself

Stop focusing on yourself. When we take the focus off ourselves (and what other people think about us). we can place more focus on others and serving them. When we take the focus off ourselves and serve, we can face any criticism that comes our way.

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