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Don't Curl Up On Your Couch: How to Deal with Professional Criticism

Thankful, TeachingAngelina OberdanComment

A week or so ago, I was with a group of other professors, and we were discussing our Myers-Briggs Personality types. I am an ISFJ or introverted, sensing, feeling, and judging. My personality type is not good at accepting criticism. However, somehow I've found a way, professionally, to cope with it. 

Please note that this does not mean I'm good at accepting criticism in my personal life, just ask Dan. 


I've picked up some skills along the way from working with people who are really good at giving professional criticism and people who are not. I’ve learned a lot from both of them. I also was in an MFA program for poetry, so I learned how to detach myself from my work. Detaching yourself from your work (especially if you love your job like I do) is difficult, but it will help. 


1. Coping with Unconstructive Professional Criticism

I am not as good at accepting professional criticism if it's not given in an effective manner. Maybe it’s because I’m a communications teacher, maybe not. I do tend to attack how my critic phrased his/her criticism. So yes, after receiving unconstructive criticism, I give myself some time to stew.

Then I try to figure out if the person is looking out for my best interest or the best interest of my students.

  • If they're not looking out for my best interests or the best interests of my students, then nothing about their criticism was healthy, and I try to let it go.

  • If my critic is looking out for me or my students (either or both), I try to ask for examples of where my performance was lacking and how I could improve it. Often I think I’m doing what someone has pointed out that I’m not, so I need more explanation about where/how my work is lacking. This doesn’t always go so well because the conversation was negative to begin with, but I try to be humble and say thank you a lot.

In general, when I start feeling personally hurt by criticism, I remind myself that it’s not personal, and then I reminded myself of everything I’ve done correctly. 

2. Coping with Constructive Professional Criticism 

Coping with constructive criticism is so much easier because usually they do have my best interests in mind. Also, it takes less energy to accept an idea than it does to reject it. But here are some of the things I do when I’m going into a review.

  • I come prepared with what I think are my own weaknesses, and I ask questions about them.
  • I try to complement my reviewer, by saying something like, “Hey, you’re really good at…. How can I do that better?
  • I try to say, “yes,” during the conversation more than I say, “no.”
  • I think practically and ask questions like, “So if I do X, do you think it will help with Y?”

I always take the criticism as a positive challenge, and I tell myself that if they’re looking for me to improve in one way, I can also show them how I excel in another.

Some of the things I do when I give criticism are:

I try to keep it in perspective: “This term…,” “On this paper,” Often you’re giving criticism on what is a very small part of a person’s life; it might feel like everything, but it’s really not.

I keep it very healthy and professional, and I use many of the same things that help me have healthy critical discussions into my criticism. So I might say, “I noticed that you’re strength is X, let’s try to make Y just as strong.” I have a boss who starts everything review by giving a compliment; I walked into my first review with her, and she said, “You are such a great teacher!” There’s nothing better than that. I try to do even with my failing students: “You are so good at ….”

John Gottman said something like, “Try to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction.” He was talking about marriage, but I think it applies to all of our relationships. If that’s how you build your professional relationships, people will naturally accept your criticism. 

I hope that helps! I highly recommend reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, because it helped me learn to be more positive in all of my interactions and not to let those critical (self-critical and judging) aspects of my personal turn into negative traits.