Top 10 Tips for Accepting Criticism

You are going to receive criticism from countless people throughout your life.  Life in the Army is no different; in fact, the culture of the Army is one full of criticism and condemnation.  If you expect to make it far in your military career, you are going to have to be willing to accept criticism at some point or another.  However, some are better than others at this.  While we should loath to criticize anyone, not many others have that approach (see “Skills for Military Leaders: Techniques in Handling People).  Here are my Top 10 Tips for Accepting Criticism.

1. Consider the Source:  Not all criticisms are created equal.  Take the time to consider whether the source of criticism is actually interested in helping you improve.  If they aren’t, simply take their “advice” with a large grain of salt.  However, if the person is genuinely interested in your improvement, be sure to thoughtfully evaluate what they are saying before simply dismissing it.

2. You Have Two Ears and One Mouth for a Reason: Try to fight your urge to argue and rationalize your errors.  Simply listen to what they have to say, soak it in, take from it what you need and drive on!

3. It Usually Isn’t Personal: Look at the situation objectively.  This is very difficult because when you receive criticism it often involves something we work very hard at.  Trust me on this, if you can detach yourself from your actions or work it makes the whole experience go over a lot more smoothly.

4. Keep Your Head: This can often be difficult when the other person is “hot-headed”.  Be the better man (or woman) and let the other person do all the huffing and puffing.  Make sure to let them know that you acknowledge their concerns and thank them for taking the time to bring the issue to light (even if you are thinking differently in your mind!).

5. Own Your Mistakes: If you are being criticized for a legit error on your part, don’t make excuses.  As a leader, you are responsible for everything that you do and FAIL to do.  Remember, denial may seem to resolve the issue for the moment, but it really hurts your personal growth as a leader.

6. Interact with the Other Person: Ask some clarifying questions.  This is particularly helpful if the person is giving you shallow or unclear criticism.  Creating dialogue between you and the other person creates a situation where a criticism becomes a discussion and fosters cooperation.

7. Look at it from Another Perspective: Criticism doesn’t have to be embarrassing or humiliating.  Seek the opportunity of getting the good feedback that criticism offers.   Always view moments like this as a moment where you are able to improve yourself.

8. Thank the Other Person: Difficult to do, but swallowing your pride can improve the relationship between you and another person.  Especially if this person is interested in your improvement, you should, at least thank them for taking the time to help you.

9. Follow Up: A lot of criticism is a result of unclear task and purpose.  While you may disagree that the other person did not provide a clear intent and you came up short, moments like that can be prevented by following up with your superiors.  Talk with the other person and let them know how you have fixed the problem.  Talk about what he/she expects from you so you are sure not to come up short.

10. TAKE ACTION! After you have had your butt handed to you, suck it up and drive on! This shows that you have actually listened to the person and are a go getter.  Don’t let the other person think their words fell on deaf ears.  Besides, you are a leader in the US Army…get out there and get it done!

FINAL THOUGHTS: I wish that I was able to write this post without having to admit that I learned these tips through personal experience.  It is easy to take on your new position full throttle and assume you know it all.  Or, perhaps you have been doing it for years and think there is no way you can be wrong.  We have all been there.  Follow these tips and you won’t have to learn the hard way like I did!

Do you have any other tips for handling criticism? Post them below, and any questions you might have. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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10 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Accepting Criticism”

  1. Being a freelance writer I am constantly at the discretion of others when it comes to criticism, whether it may be constructive or just plain rude. But in any case there are some really great ways you can deal with criticism with grace and appreciate what others are saying about your work, life or any other activity you may be performing.

    – Don’t allow your first reaction to guide you. Usually if someone is criticizing me I tend to get on the defense. I try to back down, and allow myself to take the good out of every criticism I receive. Plus, what is the point in getting angry? Take the good out of everything!

    – I always try and thank the critic, it makes me the bigger person (especially if the comment is rude or uncalled for). Plus it wins the critic over! Sometimes when I thank my critics I end up making a friend or someone who is much easier to work with rather than disputing with.

    – Each criticism is a chance for learning and growing, so with each comment I receive I write it down in a journal and reference it every now and then. Making positives out of negatives is a great way to grow in any profession.

  2. The bottom line is that we all make mistakes and can improve in some areas. Accepting criticism is one of the best ways to learn what you are doing wrong and to improve. Leaders need to have thick skin and not take it personal.

  3. Katelyn Hensel

    There is a difference between being critiqued and being criticized. Criticism can be a form of bullying that intimidates those who are below you into submission, but on the other hand if it is delivered by someone who is critiquing and not just criticizing, you can find hidden gems of knowledge. If the person doing the critiquing is an expert in your field, the benefits can be numerous, including gaining a new reference. I love the take action and follow through phases. Those are what is truly important when dealing with criticism

    1. All good military leaders I’ve ever met took constructive criticism with a grain of salt. Their goal was to get better. If they could learn a better way to do something, or fix something they were doing wrong, they were very open minded to constructive criticism. On the other hand, most people are “put off” by any type of criticism, even if it’s done properly. We all need to be open minded and allow other people to give us input on how we could improve.

  4. Good one Justin. I’ve found that nine out of ten criticisms have been valid at least to some extent, especially when they originated from a level-headed source. If I’m doing something wrong, whether on the job or in my personal life, I would prefer to know about it. Many people do not know how to deliver constructive criticism so we have to be mindful of that and just try to get the nugget of truth about what they are saying to us. Looking back 20 years or more, I realize that close to 100 percent of my bosses’ criticisms were right on the money, though I couldn’t see it at the time.

  5. Justin,

    I really like your point about “consider the source.” While most people might have a good idea from time to time, we should really only listen to people who are qualified to give us advice. That means we seek out mentors: people who have accomplished what we want to accomplish.

    I also like your idea about owning your mistakes. The best leaders always accept responsibility for their mistakes. When they do something wrong, they admit it, learn from it and move forward. Good leaders are not in the business of making excuses.


  6. We do a lot of creative work in our office and there’s always an element of artistic pride involved in anything you make. You have to fight to try to remove the Pride element when you are listening to feedback.

    Writers fall in love with their prose, painters fall in love with their color choices, coders fall in love with their software. It’s natural. But you have to push past those urges if you want to create the best outcome you possibly can.

    1. Good point, Preston. Sometimes it is hard to step back, especially when you have so much blood, sweat and tears in a project. But there is a valuable trade off to stepping back and letting others give you constructive criticism. The biggest benefit is that you can hear from someone on the outside looking in, a perspective you might not have considered before. Thanks for sharing.


    2. Couldn’t agree more, Preston. I think that this is the hardest thing to do when accepting criticism because we put so much pride into our work that we think that “there is no way that it isn’t perfect!” I like your perspective as well concerning painters and artists. Very good point!

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