Nine Interesting Questions to Help you Handle Criticism

Nine Interesting Questions to Help you Handle Criticism

Criticism comes to us all, but we can grow through it. We need to listen, ask questions and learn how to handle it with dignity.

They knew what was going to happen even before they got home. They were going to have to run through a gauntlet of criticism.

  • Where did you go?
  • Why did you do that?
  • Can’t you do anything right
  • You’re always doing that

Criticism hurts

Some of the words were like outright punches to their soul, while others were like a cat digging its claws in just to let you know its there. Little scratches, dragging deep, cutting to the core.

This was becoming a normal part of life.

Poke, poke, prick, prick, punch, punch.  It was wearing them down to where they saw every little comment as a criticism. They were getting swallowed up by the negativity and losing their breath.

It’s a sad reality that words can cut you down, and little jabs can take you out.

Have you ever been criticized? How did you handle it?

Most of us don’t handle criticism well.

All too often, one criticism collects with another criticism, and a pattern is formed in our brain. A belief is birthed that we are a failure, everything we do is wrong, and we have no value.

This can be so hard wired into us that even when someone isn’t criticizing us, we still hear it as a criticism. Our negativity bias in our brain can warp even a kind word into a critique.

What can help to handle the negativity is to ask yourself some questions that will shift your thinking out of reaction and self condemnation into a more reflective pragmatic mode.

Nine questions to help you handle criticism

  1. What was my emotional response to the criticism?
    Did I bury it? Take it in as truth? Get angry, frustrated?
    Examining your feelings may help you make sense of it all.
  2. Have I clarified the criticism?
    People say things to us, and we respond but is our response accurate to what was being said.
    It’s often useful to slow the emotion train down and pragmatically ask clarifying questions.
    ‘So what I hear you saying is …’
    ‘Can you explain … to me further.’
    ‘Would be able to tell me more?’
  3. Can you write their criticism down?
    As part of clarifying the criticism, write it down, present it to them, ask them if you got it right. Create a log of all the criticisms you endure. Put all the criticisms into one place. It may show some trends.
  4. Is there some truth to learn here?
    All of us have areas in our lives that we could work on. Such as not putting your dirty coffee cup in the dishwasher is annoying.
    Perhaps their criticism has some validity.

     Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
        but profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6

    As iron sharpens iron,
        so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17

  5. Is this more about them than it is about me?
    Are they letting off steam, and you happen to get caught in the vent?
    Perhaps they are a bully, wanting to dominate and control.
    Maybe there is a pecking order that they want to maintain.
    Perhaps they are blaming you for things that are actually their responsibility.
  6. Is there a pattern to their criticism?
    There may well be a pattern to their fault-finding. Every day at a specific time, they always take a shot.
    Perhaps it’s related to an event. ‘You always forget to buy peanut butter’ after you have been shopping.
  7. Could a problem-solving sheet help?
    If there is a regular pattern of criticism, it might be time to pull out a problem-solving sheet and pragmatically work through the issue.
    Learn more here
  8. Is my inner critic the one that is creating the noise?
    We all have an inner critic that regularly tells us we are not doing this or that. That we are not performing up to a certain standard. Comparisonitis can kick in too.
    The criticism heard was minor but its being amplified by the inner critic.
    Sometimes you have to tell your inner critic to SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP or perhaps more gently to take a back seat.
  9. Has a line of love and respect (boundary) been crossed, and if so, what are the consequences for crossing them?
    Some times it just gets too much. A line had been crossed, and you need to express a consequence. ‘When you said that, it crossed a line.  The consequence will be …’


Remember, you can’t control how others respond to you. What you can control is how you respond to them.

It takes time, reflective time, where you listen to yourself and what gets generated within you when a criticism lands. Then move out from there.

Quotes to consider

  • Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
  • Other peoples’ reaction to you might be telling you more about themselves, than about you. Don’t take it so personally. D. Riddell
  • It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife. Proverbs 21:9
  • The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. Peter Drucker
  • Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner. Lao Tzu
  • He who throws dirt always loses ground. Unknown
  • He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help. Abraham Lincoln
  • Praise and encouragement is much more effective in changing others’ behaviour than is criticism, but which do you use on yourself? D. Riddell

Questions to answer

  1. Can we become hypersensitive to criticism? How can we defuse the hypersensitivity?
  2. Who has a stronger voice in your life? The inner critic or an outer critic?
  3. What example can you think of where criticism was given in a helpful way. What made it helpful?

Further reading

Give them your Shirt and confuse the bully into shame

How ‘Going the extra Mile’ Flips the Power Dynamics

Does ‘Turning the other cheek’ mean I have to keep taking abuse?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Matthew T Rader

Nine Interesting Questions to Help you Handle Criticism