Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Secret to Taking Criticism Seriously—Not Personally

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Hillary Clinton speak at the annual Women in the World Summit. My second favorite moment of the talk (after moderator Thomas Friedman asked her if there “were any other jobs she’d be interested in”) was her biggest piece of advice to young professionals:

“It’s important to take criticism seriously—not personally.”

In other words, dealing with the tough feedback you’ll inevitably receive from bosses, clients, co-workers, and, in Hillary’s case, the American public, is a fine line. On one hand, knowing where you’re not meeting expectations and understanding the negative perceptions others have of you is the only way you’ll learn and grow as a professional.

On the other, letting every harsh word or critique hit you in the gut is a fast way to make your confidence—and ability to do what you know you’re best at—crumble.

As someone who often writes about the power of feedback and who also has a legitimate panic attack before every performance review, I know that’s often easier said than done. So I’ve pulled together my all-time favorite tips that help the dealing-with-feedback process be a bit less painful.

First, consider this advice from Barking Up the Wrong Tree about how to approach and process any piece of criticism you receive:

So, make two lists: One is things they’re wrong about. And one is things that, well, they might be right about.

Next time you get feedback, make three columns:
1. What they said
2. What’s ‘wrong’ with the feedback
3. What might be right

This lets you vent your frustration in column 2 but column 3 makes sure you don’t lose the value of what they’re saying.

The next step? Get into problem solving mode. Look at column three, and ask yourself: If this feedback was 100% true, what would I need to do with it? or, alternatively, If someone I knew received this feedback, what would I tell him or her to do?

Using this “if” language is a simple mind trick that lets you process the criticism seriously while removing some of the emotion out of the equation. You allow your mind to shift from beating yourself up about what you did wrong to brainstorming about what you can do to get ahead in the future.

Hey, if it worked for Hillary, it’s advice worth following.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.

A logo with "the muse" in white text.