Living Beyond Criticism


I do know how to make my wife laugh…even at my expense. I have been fascinated with ballroom dancing since last year. It was something I reluctantly embraced after being taken kicking and screaming to the dance floor. Several weeks ago I thought it would be nice to practice my dance moves so that I would perform them better. My wife was out of town at the time. I got a notice about a dance with a live band on Saturday. I thought it would be cool.

However, I should have read the fine print. When I got to the event, it was packed full of energy and enthusiasm. What I failed to learn was that the dance was at a senior citizen center. That meant I would be dancing with my mother and grandmother at the event. Secretly, I pledged to myself that I would not ask anyone to dance and gracefully exit from this event. The average age of the attendees was over 80 years old. I was but a puppy at 40 + years old.

However, my exit strategy did not work. I invited myself to sit (of course, I did not know anyone and just dashed to the nearest unoccupied sit) with a well-to-do couple who was visiting in the area. They were well educated, financially secure, and very mobile; they had winter and summer homes. Having a questioning nature, I asked about how they perceived life and what the general attitude of these folks was in general since they were all part of the Greatest Generation. I was pretty shocked at the responses.

They noted that many of them did not care about any past accomplishments, titles, wealth, or status symbols. Most folks were mostly concerned with their health, quality of life, and having enough money to live. Kids and grandkids were rarely mentioned (many had been abandoned by them). With them approaching the end of their golden years, the focus was on current relationships and values. In fact, there was an evolution by many of them in their thinking: “There was no shame in their game.”

Many couples had forgone the taboos of living together (aka ‘shacking up) because these people did not want to lose their Social Security checks or other financial means. In a nutshell, they did not care about what others thought about them. It was something that I could relate to in ballroom dancing.

My male friends give me a hard time about ballroom dancing. However, at the same time, they cannot dance, garnish the attention of others by doing something others could not do, or inject into their character fresh confidence in learning how to do something new and different. Many people do not progress in life for fear of being criticized.

No one wants to be criticized. Dr. William Watley, Senior Pastor of the St. Phillip African Methodist Episcopal Church observed, “Criticism’s certainly something that you can’t be delivered from…From the womb to the tomb, you can’t escape it.” Criticism can be defined as ‘the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.’

No one can avoid criticism if they are active in an organization or serve in a leader’s capacity. Yet, individuals can also be criticized because of lack of action. Dr. Watley argues that criticism is all that some people know how to do, which indicates to him that ”these people need to get a life.” Perhaps, actress Ava Gardner summed it up best about critics: “Hell, I suppose if you stick around long enough, they have to say something nice about you.”

On the contrary, a Constructive Critic points out things that will assist in the personal or professional development of a person. A Petty Fault Finder can always locate some short coming in an individual that is not helpful and a fault that he or she does not have a problem with. In fact, no matter how hard you attempt to correct a problem noted by a Petty Fault Finder, he or she will not be satisfied; a Petty Fault Finder will seek to only locate another problem in this individual’s life.

Great leaders know how to use criticism in a way that can transform an organization. Most people are unwilling to change even when it is out of necessity or survival. Richard Daft, renowned author of Management, notes that change can be problematic for organizational growth.


Employees and managers often resist change. Dr. Daft explains, “Yet most changes will encounter some degree of resistance. Idea champions often discover that other employees are unenthusiastic about their new ideas….People typically resist a change they believe conflicts with their self-interest.”[1] Most managers understand how to control and oversee their organizations.

Few managers have the innate ability to inspire their employees from mediocre to extraordinary performance. That position description requires a leader, not a status quo manager. All great leaders, from President George Washington to Albert Einstein, had their own share of criticism and a merry band of Petty Fault Finders.

Sadly, some individuals never are effective in their positions because they can never seem to manage because of fear of negative criticism. Gareth Jones and Jennifer George, authors of Contemporary Management, explained how bad leadership damages an organization: “When leaders are ineffective, chances are good that their subordinates do not perform to their capabilities, are demotivated, and may be dissatisfied as well.”[2] Consequently, it is important that leaders develop strategies for managing criticism effectively in order to move their organizations to exemplary performance.

Please discuss how to cope with negative criticism in a professional work environment.

 © 2013 by Daryl D. Green


[1]Management by Richard Daft

[2] Contemporary Management by Gareth Jones and Jennifer George


7 thoughts on “Living Beyond Criticism

  1. Four years ago, I was a junior in college majoring in Industrial Technology. I decided to take a one year internship with a local manufacturing company. The job title was product engineer, and I would be assisting the engineering supervisor with design, drawing modification, and testing of products assembled at the facility. Looking back on the internship, I can definitely say I was not prepared. Every written test result, design change, or drawing modification was initially rejected by my supervisor. While his criticisms of my work were far from subtle, the supervisor never spoke to me in a derogatory manner. Nonetheless, the rejections and his opinions of my work were harsh enough. “People too often take criticism as a personal attack, or as a signal that all the things they’ve done right aren’t being appreciated.” Not all criticism is bad, and sometimes it can provide feedback that’s valuable to your success, (Dizik, 2012). I was completely unprepared for the level of work this company desired. Thankfully, the internship was an awakening to my workplace attributes and helped me focus harder on the areas needing improvement.

    Dizik, Alina. June 8, 2012
    Six Ways to Deal with Criticism at Work

    • It is essential to point out that unfair and negative criticism is different from constructive feedback. Criticism can be unfair if it is not correct while it can also be deemed so because it does not have a bearing on how an employee does their job (Scivicque, 2012). In this case, the employee should realize that this is indicative of the critic’s shortcomings, rather than their own. While reaction to negative criticism is natural, it is not wise as a career move. Instead, the employee needs to remain calm and clarify that they understand what is being said the criticism. If it is based on a misunderstanding, it needs to be worked out with a third party if necessary. If it is not a misunderstanding then the employee may need to speak with their manager or someone in the human resource department. This is how I was taught at work to handle these situations.

      Scivicque, C. (2012). The perfect recipe for handling negative feedback at work. Retrieved from

    • Breanna, I agree with your view points that not all criticism is bad, and sometimes it can actually provide feedback that’s valuable to your success. In my opinion people should not perceive negative feedbacks as a personal attack and become defensive, but instead should take time and carefully listen towards the feedback “The less feedback is perceived as an attack, the more likely it is to be received as instruction” (Halvorson, 2013), this practice helps you identify the truth behind the situation. Second is to clarify the truth without counterattacking the opposition. This practice eliminates personal attacks or grudges. Third is to analyze the truth behind the criticism, this step would help you recognize errors (if any), lastly, if the criticism has a little truth or value in it then try to implement a change, if not simply ignore it.

      Heidi Grant Halvorson, January 28, 2013, retrieved from

  2. Fear of criticism is something I used to struggle with until I stepped back and took emotions out of the equation and thought, “what can I take from this and learn to benefit me and my career in the long run?”
    Probably the worst thing you could do when someone criticizes your work is to get defensive. Ask open-ended questions that help to clarify the partner’s concerns. But don’t argue with the person even if you are sure he or she is wrong. Then take the time to process the criticism after the person has gone. If you need to vent, do so out of the office environment with trusted friends or family.

    While you should avoid confrontation with a coworker at all costs, that does not mean you should be passive (or start getting passive-aggressive). If you did not receive adequate background in order to do the job properly and you are criticized for the results, you need to do something about it. If you allow the coworker to chastise you for something that was not your fault, then you are giving implied approval to the partner to treat you like this in the future. When emotions have cooled, you can ask the coworker for a few minutes of their time. Acknowledge that the job was not done properly and ask how you can do better the next time.

    Getting criticized while at a large company can be particularly challenging to the ego. If you made it into a successful firm, then you probably take some pride in your own intellect. Having someone question your abilities in an aggressive manner can be painful. Large companies are high-pressure work environments and everyone is bound to receive some unwanted criticism. The secret to success in handling this criticism is to strip away the emotions and focus on the facts.

    This is easier said than done, but you will be a lot happier if you continue to work at this rather than looking for positive feedback from someone who may not know how to give it.

    Source References
    Steiner, John F., George A. Steiner (2009). Business, Government, and Society: A Managerial Perspective, Text and Cases. 12th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

  3. In every workplace, you will have criticism from coworkers, bosses, and clients. Often criticism from others can be difficult to take, especially if the other person isn’t subtle about it “Criticism in the workplace can be constructive if an individual is pointing out concrete inefficiencies” (McQuerrey, 2012 Personally, I’m really terrible at taking criticism. Weather if it comes from coworkers, friends or family. I am known to take constructive criticism too personally. The question that I asked myself a few years ago was how to convert constructive feedback into positive change without feeling so discouraged and insulted? I came across three main points to help me first determine positive feedback and build on it.
    1. Keep it professional
    2. Get a second opinion
    3. Be self-aware
    McQuerrey, Lisa 2012
    How to Deal with Criticism in the Workplace. Retrieved from :

  4. I am known to take criticism too personally, especially when it comes from my co workers, bosses and friends. The question here is how can I learn to handle criticism without feeling insulted and discouraged and especially how can I benefit from it? Criticism from work place in general can affect every aspect of one’s life by adding stress “Criticism at work can affect every part of your life, adding stress during work hours and invading your thoughts outside the office”(Dizik, 2012)
    Over the years I have learned how to cope with negative criticism by first remaining calm and listening while analyzing the situation and determining whether or not the person delivering the criticism is important to me? How relevant is the criticism? How can I build on it? Can I benefit from it? Over the years this has definitely helped me build on negative feedback’s and comments from friends, family and workplace.

    Alina Dizik June 8, 2012 Six Ways to Deal with Criticism at Work
    Retrieved from

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