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Responding to Criticism Without Being Defensive

How to learn from constructive criticism and ignore the rest.

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Partnerships: Drop The Game of Passing the Blame and Enhance Others' Respect

In partnerships (as in school project partnerships) how we get our own work done is often dependent on how well other people do their jobs. So, frequently, when we receive criticism it is easy to "pass the buck" and justify why we had difficulty with our part based on how others contributed to that difficulty.

Instead of starting out by shifting blame or making excuses, even if we think the problem was caused by a partner, we can ask questions, such as, "What would you suggest I do differently next time?" or, "Were you aware that I had to get the materials from Jane before I could finish the project?" Or, "If she doesn't have her part of the project to me on time, how would you suggest I deal with it?"

If the feedback is about your own performance and not related to what anyone else has or hasn't done, you can just start by asking for more information. You can ask for additional details about how the teacher or peer sees your attitude and behavior. Then, if there are points where you disagree, you can still use questions, such as, "If you think I shouldn't have criticized the quality of George's work on the project, are you saying I should just accept however he does it?" Or, "Are you saying I should just accept how he did it, or do you think it was how I said it?" Or, "Do you think there is any way I can let him know when I think the quality needs improvement?" At some point you may wish to disagree with part or all of what the person is saying. However, if your initial response to criticism is to gather more information, you will gain respect. Also, if the other person is off-base, your questions may prompt her or him to re-think the criticism.

Building Wisdom and Gaining Respect

For most of us, responding to criticism without defending our selves has meant being "defenseless," caving in, losing face, feeling bad about ourselves. On the other hand, responding defensively has meant being harsh, closed, shutting others out. This is a no-win choice. We look bad and undermine our own self esteem either way. If we can learn to respond to criticism with true non-defensive openness and clarity, asking questions, stating our position, and setting limits when needed, we can build our own wisdom and garner the respect of both the children and adults in our lives.

More Examples

This article is based on 'Taking the War Out of Our Words' by Sharon Ellison, available through your local bookstore or favorite online bookseller. Sharon Ellison, M.S. is an award winning speaker and international consultant.

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