How to Respond to Criticism at Work

Overwhelmed by criticism

Most of us have the tendency, or subconscious programming, to give too much power to other people’s opinions since, at the subconscious level, we have patterns that determine our codependency with others and the external world.

Criticism is not hurtful unless we decide it is. It takes inner work to build the ability to respond consciously to criticism and to offer it in a compassionate, thoughtful way. For some people, it is difficult to offer constructive criticism, and when they do it, they choose offensive, hurtful words because they have built up anger, resentment, and frustration. If it is difficult for us to offer constructive criticism because we do not know how to express it in conscious ways at appropriate times, the same is true for other people.

Emotionally intelligent people, who develop, practice, and cultivate emotional intelligence and mindfulness, are generally more aware of their emotions and thus understand self-regulation, which is the ability to choose and consciously channel words, behaviors, actions, and decisions that come from our subconscious patterns. The subconscious is 90% of the mind but influences us 95% of the time. So, there are no surprises when we react instead of responding, but we can reprogram our minds.

Let us also consider that most of us have the tendency, or subconscious programming, to give too much power to other people’s opinions since, at the subconscious level, we have patterns that determine our codependency with others and the external world. We become defensive or offended, and we make it personal; we give meaning to other people’s words, and our subconscious programs make sure we fall into the patterns, habits, and beliefs charged with judgment, fear, and pain.

We lack self-awareness, period. Only a tiny percentage of people practice, develop and cultivate self-awareness intentionally, making our workplace the perfect place to learn and grow. But, it is not that simple, right? When we feel that somebody disapproves of our actions, decisions, and behaviors, it means that we are failing, that we are not enough, that we are not fulfilling somebody’s expectations, and that hurts because it makes us feel that we are falling short. Since childhood we have been building these subconscious programs without awareness, just by observing repetitive behaviors of our parents, family, friends, and society. We are the product of our environment.

The good news is that we can reprogram our subconscious mind: habits, beliefs, patterns. Let us explore some options:

  1. Start practicing self-awareness; recognize emotions, feelings, thoughts, and subconscious programs. Self-awareness equips us to choose other behaviors, actions, decisions, and words. I teach 1 Minute of Self-Reflection, a tool based on emotional intelligence, neuroscience, and mindfulness that helps you create the habit of self-awareness and self-talk.
  2. Once you recognize your tendencies in offering or receiving criticism, you can change them.
  3. Make a list of habits, patterns, and beliefs that limit your ability to provide and receive criticism and start working with them, one by one. Changing habits requires inner strength.
  4. Use self-talk to remind yourself that your subconscious programs are talking and choose another path; choose to offer compassionate, conscious criticism to help grow another human being. Remind yourself mentally that the criticism you are receiving also comes from a human being who is not fully aware and conscious.
  5. Remind yourself that your colleagues, clients, and boss are dealing with the same limitations every day and choose to respond from your conscious mind. In the end, you cannot control others’ behaviors, only yours, and that can serve as an example. Remember, it takes two to tango.
  6. Learn to communicate consciously and keep in mind that “life-alienating communication traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness—a world of judgments.”
  7. Build your self-confidence. Self-confidence is the ability to recognize our strengths as well as our limitations. When we are aware, we feel grounded and trust ourselves; thus, we trust others as well. When we are honest and truthful with ourselves, we feel connected. When we embrace our “limitations” we are compassionate with ourselves, and others and we are more inclined to improve with curiosity and joy.

As Wayne W. Dyer says, “Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.”

The false belief that self-confidence means we are perfect only limits us; it paralyzes us and keeps us stuck. There is no perfection in this world, and I rejoice in that because it means we accept and love our shortcomings and nurture ourselves, so that we keep growing.

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