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When Criticism Takes a Toll: How to Know What to Take from It

From the online reviews of past clients to the gentle reminder from a partner, we receive feedback in our professional careers and our personal lives every day. Ultimately, feedback itself isn’t inherently good or bad—but it can come in either form as it relates to our performance and our response. 

A pat on the back and some effusive kudos after a job well done can make us feel like we’re on top of the world. So give us all the positive feedback! Yet, criticism—even when constructive—can make us feel like we might as well hang up our hats and give up. It can make us feel like losers, failures, and everything in between.

But, it doesn’t have to be like that—and it really shouldn’t. It is easy to take criticism as a personal jab to our core, especially when you’re emotionally invested in the matter. Yet, it’s important to shift your mindset to see it as an educational moment rather than a cruel offense.

Feedback and criticism are two sides of the same coin. What matters is how you perceive the experience and what you choose to take away from it to improve in the future.

If you’re the type to feel insecure and misty-eyed at the slightest criticism, understand that it’s a natural response, and you’re not alone in that. However, removing the emotional aspect of feedback is a powerful way to learn, grow, and become a better professional (and person) without dealing with the hurt feelings often associated with criticism.

Here are a few ways to adjust your perspective and begin welcoming all feedback as learning lessons that are simply part of your journey.

Avoid knee-jerk reactions.

If someone ever tells you they never have emotional responses to criticism, they’re lying to you. We’re all humans, and, naturally, it can hurt to hear negative feedback about ourselves and what we put into the world. But, how you manage, that response is what matters. If you receive a piece of feedback that crosses a line or makes you feel angry or upset, take a step back and give yourself space to breathe and process it. 

Do not react immediately, as you may end up saying or doing something out of emotion that you’ll ultimately regret later. Instead, try to break down where the criticism came from, whether it was warranted, and how you can address the situation amicably without stirring the pot. It helps to step into the other party’s shoes to empathize with their feelings and get better insight into why they said what they said.

Tease out the learning lesson.

More often than not, the negative feedback we receive has at least a shred of truth to it, even if it didn’t warrant the scale of their criticism. As you break down the issue at hand, it will become easier to set the emotions aside to get to the root issue—and that’s where the teaching moment lies. Yes, you might be frustrated or sad, but looking at your criticism rationally will help you avoid making similar mistakes and feeling those negative feelings in the future.

In fact, it can be incredibly rewarding to reframe said criticism into feedback that improves our businesses and ourselves! I believe that every piece of feedback has some element of growth within it, so it’s worth examining what has been said to see what you can take away from it. You and your future clients will be better for it.

Talk it out.

Once you’ve had a chance to process the criticism, try to open up a dialogue about the situation and share your side of the story. It can be very beneficial to allow all parties to discuss their needs and goals and why they felt they were not met. 

You may learn that the situation has nothing to do with you or your services, and you just happened to be collateral damage, so to speak. Or perhaps you realize something was going on outside of the situation that spilled over into your working relationship.

Of course, you might come to find that there was a true misgiving, and you failed to meet their expectations. In that case, you already started the dialogue to begin to address the root of the problem to make amends and adjust your processes to improve going forward.

Practice giving feedback.

Believe it or not, accepting feedback can become easier as you dole it out more yourself. When you recognize that you come from a place of care and respect (even when critical), you’ll realize that others feel the same when giving you feedback.

To become a better feedback-giver, I recommend starting any interaction by asking if someone is open to hearing it. When you begin this way, it doesn’t catch the recipient off-guard and will help both parties feel open and disarmed. 

Avoid making it personal and, instead, focus on the root of the issue. It might be an issue with punctuality or a habit of cutting corners; whatever it is, don’t approach it from a place of judgment. Emotions cloud our perceptions and can sway how we give feedback and, as a result, how the other person receives it. 

Nobody promised an easy ride through life, and, for many, receiving criticism can feel like the hardest part to endure. However, if you adjust your mindset and open yourself up to change, you’ll find the silver lining in every piece of negative feedback: the opportunity to grow. 


Jordan Kentris

Owner, A Good Day

Jordan Kentris is the founder and owner of A Good Day (, a boutique design firm that creates one-of-a-kind stationery, establishing unique brands for each and every event. He was recently recognized by BizBash as one of the Most Innovative People in 2020 for his creative, holistic approach to virtual events.