Accepting Criticism as a Growth Tool

“He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.”—Abraham Lincoln

The bravery it takes to put ourselves on the line personally or professionally pales in comparison to the courage it takes to accept criticism.

“Do you want feedback?” friends asked after a few of my recent speeches. “Not really” is my initial thought, thinking I am thrilled enough to have just delivered powerful content in new ways. It is our human nature to avoid critique, according to Norman Vincent Peale, the author renowned for his book, The Power of Positive Thinking. “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism,” Peale has said.

Then, knowing I always grow  by listening and discerning which pieces of information are useful, I step back from the glory moments on stage and accept the feedback offered. Surprisingly, the suggestions are minor, not the dreaded overall rejection some of us erroneously expect based on earlier conditioning.

In younger, more fragile years, I always wanted to hear what I was doing right, craving the acknowledgment of my worthiness from others that I finally learned to give to myself. Still, praise can be heartwarming, healing and uplifting, particularly when it is unsolicited versus expected. Relationships thrive when we consistently take the time to honor another’s gifts, and express our appreciation of another’s presence in our lives.

Yet, relationships also deepen when we can lovingly accept and offer criticism and stay present with the suggestions versus retreat or withdraw. The initial sting can make us want to run, or point a hurtful finger of blame at the messenger. However, if we see all of our relationships as tools for growth, we can learn from every interaction, whether it feels positive or negative.

This past year, I experienced moments of wanting to flee or disengage from friends who said some hurtful comments to me, or offered helpful suggestions that I resisted at first because I thought my way of doing something was fine. By taking time alone to regroup and gain perspective, I realized that what appeared harsh was actually very loving and constructive. The words that hurt helped me further claim my value or listen more effectively to the needs of others.

I also realized it can take the same courage to give criticism as it does to accept it, for sometimes we need to risk hurting others in order to help them.

Finding gentle or kind ways of delivering feedback in compassionate tones makes criticism easier to embrace as a learning tool to spur growth.


Write out the statement below long-hand each day. Then, repeat out loud as frequently as you desire, but especially in the morning and at night when in restful states:

I allow myself to accept criticism as a tool for growth.

Beth Shedd’s photo of the bee amidst the colorful flowers reminds us to keep the initial sting of criticism in perspective as it can often lead to the blossoming of self-awareness.

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Is there a behavior, belief or even a relationship  you would like to leave behind or add to your life at this juncture?

A great way to physically “let go” or “let in” is by experiencing Gail’s coaching while walking.

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  • Danielle says:

    Fantastic post. Thank you for your keen insights. The bar is higher than just putting ourselves on the line to be exposed to criticism; actually accepting (and positively channelling) the feedback is the more difficult task.

    • Gail says:

      And thank you Danielle for the wonderful insights of your own. I like your words “positively channeling” the feedback. Very inspiring.

  • Accepting and giving loving criticism is a challenge for most of us. What you point out is that it doesn’t have to be “all bad” OR “all good.” If we’re open to growing we can use the feedback to fine-tune ourselves. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    • Gail says:

      “Loving criticism” is the key as you note. Often, that means waiting until we’re not deep in a emotion like anger to share our feedback, learning to pause and discern right timing. Still, even conflict is healthy for a relationship, to bring issues out in the open versus hold them in and let them build up. I also like your point about it not having to be “all bad” or “all good.” Instead, seeing criticism as a learning tool frees us.

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