I'm in Germany. I walk into my academic advisor's office to receive feedback on the proposal I spent days writing.

I receive a small smile before hearing "Good effort, but you need to pick a different topic. Let's talk about other ideas you have."

Woman has hands on her head as she stares at her laptop in frustration. Her glasses sit on the table. Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

This is one of my most vivid experiences of receiving constructive criticism, a form of feedback that focuses on delivering critique to improve performance or behavior. Constructive criticism is actionable, clear, and beneficial. It doesn't focus only on the negative.

Over time, I learned to be more accepting of constructive criticism and found that it really does help me improve.

Why can't I take constructive criticism?

Have you ever been offered constructive criticism by a teacher, coworker, or friend and you:

  • got defensive?

  • felt awful and thought about it for days?

  • dismissed it completely to avoid feeling like a failure?

    David from Schitt's Creek raising hand and saying,

It's hard receiving constructive criticism, especially about something you really care about. Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., gives us some reasons why:

  1. Our SURVIVAL as humans depends on being accepted into a group of people.

  2. When we feel this acceptance is threatened, our bodies react as if we're being physically threatened.

  3. To protect ourselves, the first response is often to prove why our critic is wrong.


Our brains have evolved to respond to criticism with:

How do I tell my brain to chill out?

I Hate It Trash GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants

Take these initial steps to calm down:

  1. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you are valuable. Your critic wouldn't bother offering you constructive feedback if you weren't.

  2. Remember to keep the task central. It's not about you. It's about creating the best product/performance/relationship possible.

Use additional calming or grounding techniques as needed.


Your roommate starts constructively criticizing your habit of letting the dishes soak...for two days. You start to feel yourself getting upset. What should you do to calm yourself? Select all that apply.

How to get the most out of constructive citicism

Ask questions

Though sometimes we'd like criticism to get over quickly, asking clarifying questions will make your product much better and make your critic feel heard.

I hear you. Would letting the dishes soak overnight be okay, or would you rather have them done immediately?

Forget their tone

It can be tough to hear criticism when it sounds mean or rushed. Forget how it's said and focus on the content.

Thank you for your feedback. I can tell you care a lot about this.

If all else fails...prove them wrong!

Use constructive criticism as motivation. See it as a fun challenge or obstacle course.

Maybe having a tidier apartment would make me feel better too. I'm going to try 6 days in a row where I wash my dishes within the hour.

You Got It Yes GIF by grown-ish


Your coworker approaches you and says, "I like that you listen to my project ideas and give me feedback. I would appreciate it if you also publicly supported me in meetings." But you get nervous speaking in public! What's the best response?

Take Action

Three people sit around a dark wooden table with their laptops out. They're laughing. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The next time you receive constructive criticism, remember to:


Your feedback matters to us.

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