How To Improve Your Response to Constructive Criticism

Connor Harrington


March 16, 2023

“I like criticism. It makes you strong.” ~ LeBron James

Constructive Criticism

If you’ve ever had a teacher give you feedback on an essay, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is feedback offering specific and actionable advice for the purpose of improvement. What differentiates constructive criticism from other forms of criticism is the guidance and support given for improvement. With constructive criticism, we’re trying to inspire and elevate a person's performance rather than point out or pick apart the flaws in their work.

Why it is Important

Receiving feedback in the form of constructive criticism has many benefits. One main benefit is improving communication and trust. Constructive criticism opens up the conversation about areas of work that need to be improved and having open lines of communication is crucial to professional development. On the other hand, destructive criticism can leave people feeling attacked and lead them to be more repressed in the future. Constructive criticism shows the other person that you want them to succeed and trust that they can do so.

Constructive criticism is also important as it offers context. Context is necessary to understand why the feedback is being offered. With feedback in context, it is easier to see and understand the correct steps for improvement. For example, saying “I don’t like this” is far less helpful than saying “We could possibly improve this prototype if we adjust the scale from 12” to 14”, what do you think?” With context, we understand what the critic “doesn’t like” and gain an understanding of how to improve.

Another benefit to constructive criticism is that it comes with specific advice for improvement. As we know, simply telling someone to do better isn't helpful for anyone. Advice is helpful as it shows support and provides a different point of view.

Lastly, whether at school, work, or in your social life, constructive criticism creates a collaborative and uplifting environment. When everyone is comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback, everyone improves and collaboration becomes more effective.

Why it Can be Difficult to Take

Criticism is a part of life, and although many times it is meant to be constructive, it can be difficult to hear. Receiving criticism may make you feel a range of emotions anywhere from uncomfortable to devastated. Being able to take any criticism with grace is a learned skill. It’s a very natural inclination to become defensive when receiving criticism. The reason why criticism can be so difficult to hear is that it involves being vulnerable and acknowledging some of your own shortcomings.  When being criticized it’s important to remember to stay in the moment. Don't let your thoughts get ahead of you, instead, think about what is being said in the present moment. In the long term, it’s also important to work on giving up on perfection and realize that we are all human and make mistakes. The person offering suggestions often makes just as many mistakes as you.

How to Improve your Response to Constructive Criticism

There are three main steps you can take when receiving constructive criticism. The first step would be to withhold your initial reaction. Criticism almost always hurts, especially when you have poured a lot of time and effort into what you have accomplished, however, it is essential not to become defensive. If you feel yourself beginning to become defensive, remember the benefits of getting feedback. Withholding your initial reaction gives you time to process your emotions, and allows you to come up with an appropriate response.

The next step is to be a good listener. It is important to listen closely and focus on gaining a clear understanding of the other person's comments. This should give you a better idea of their perspective and ways for you to make improvements. Listening closely and remaining calm also shows the critic that you value their opinion and are not taking things the wrong way.

Lastly, it is important to thank the critic and ask questions. Although you may not entirely agree with the criticism you have received, it is important to say thank you as it shows appreciation for the efforts towards your improvement. After sincerely listening to the feedback, it is wise to ask questions. This helps to deconstruct the feedback and show the critic that you are willing to improve. During this time you should ask for specific examples of solutions. It is also important to ask questions because it creates a better relationship between you and the critic, and gives you an opportunity to give your perspective on the issues being discussed.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

~ Winston Churchill

Connor Harrington

I’m an Environmental Studies major working towards a second degree in Public Policy at Rutgers University. In my free time, I enjoy activities like fishing, backpacking, and foraging. I joined Promly because I am passionate about topics such as sustainability and mental health, and hope to see forward progression in the future.