What Criticism Can Teach You

written by Erica Quam

When you get criticism thrown your way - from your athletes, parents, administrators, or even another coach on the staff - what's your response?

No matter what you do in life, there will always be people who judge and criticize you for actions you take and decisions you make. Criticism is something you can't escape!

It doesn't matter how good you are, how successful you are, or how much you strive to do things really well...there will always be someone there to play the role of the critic.

If you live a life - where you are vulnerable enough to show who you really are and risk putting yourself out there to connect with others - then you also can count on having critics there to judge and tear you down.


4 ways most people deal with criticism...



A) THE BOXER: I get pissed...and fight back.

When someone criticizes me, I jump right in and defend myself. I'll fight right back and knock them down too. How dare they!? 





B) THE VICTIM: I take it all in, then complain to someone else about it.

I take criticism personally. Then...I collude with other people about it who will feel sorry for me and make me feel better.



C) THE OSTRICH: I totally ignore it…whatever!

When I hear criticism, I let it go. I don't care what they think and I'm not gonna let it impact me - at all. Period.





D) THE TURTLE: I take it all in, and I KEEP it all in.

I take criticism personally. Then…I keep it to myself. I don’t want to let anyone know how hurt I am.


Yet none of these 'strategies' are effective. These are usually our 'knee-jerk' reactions as we try to protect ourselves…from getting hurt!

We all have a knee-jerk reaction that is our default…the one we fall back to most frequently. Is there a better way to deal with criticism - than self protecting?


When we get pissed and fight back - usually with the intent to make the other person feel bad - we usually end up feeling worse. This approach takes us out of alignment with our values.


When we play the role of the victim, we enter into the drama triangle. Instead of becoming empowered…we rely on someone else to come and rescue us. Usually, we end up moving into the role of the bully - as we make our case against the person who criticized us. The dance will continue inside the drama triangle…until someone steps out.


The ostrich usually doesn’t just ignore the criticism…the ostrich gets cynical. When we get to the point when criticism no longer hurts us…we lose the ability the feel the positive emotions that enrich our lives - like joy and happiness.


When we take in the criticism in and withdraw into ourselves believing that criticism as reality…we get caught in shame. We look at ourselves through someone else's eyes - instead of our own. This usually turns on our own INNER critic - who is much stronger than any outside critic we could encounter!


Try using this framework to respond to criticism...one step at a time:

When someone criticizes us, it's about them. It's about their personal experience - from their unique lens. We don't have to take it ON. Can we do a better job of taking it IN?

1. Take a breath

This is the most important step...and maybe the hardest. If you can pause - even a few seconds - before responding, this can take you out of your default mode.

2. Recognize emotions

Recognize the emotions that come up for you as you experience the criticism. If you get hooked or charged up about something…take a look at it. If someone’s comments send you through the roof…there's probably something under the surface to explore a little further.

3. Stay out of judgement

Don't become the critic yourself! Separate the person from their criticism.

4. Consider the source

Take the other person's perspective. Get curious about what they see? Ask yourself, 'Is there's something I don't know about myself that's being revealed?'

5. Unravel intent

What’s the intent behind their criticism? Do they care about you? Are they trying to be helpful? Or...are they just being mean?

6. Decide

Decide what you can take away and what you can learn. Decide how much energy you'll spend on the criticism. Then move on.


When we get criticism that hurts, what do we need?

We need to be selective of the feedback we let in. The mean stuff can really hurt! Set boundaries and limits up for yourself from the mean stuff! Definitely don’t read online comments, tweets, or replies from anonymous trolls that are just out there to hurt.

We need empathy…which is different from a rescue. Brené Brown makes a great differentiation when she explains how we don’t need someone to fix it for us, we need someone to let us know we’re not alone. 

Not everyone can be that empathetic person. It’s a skill. It’s better to have 1 or 2 dependable people you know you can talk to instead of expecting everyone to have this skill.

Your turn! Share your default mode and any other thoughts or ideas about what you can learn from criticism in the comments below.