How Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Criticism: They Don’t Do This

2.11.16 Criticism

Story provided by Inc.

While in an early leadership role many years ago, I experienced an exchange I’ll never forget. I chastised a team member (we’ll call him David) for a major blunder. My point was valid, but I’m sure I could have delivered it better. David’s response was quick and cutting: “You know, you’re the kind of manager the rest of us hate.”


None of us enjoy getting criticized. It’s human nature to enjoy being right and feel a sense of hurt when we’re wrong. The thing is, we all need criticism. Although we’re generally drawn to like-minded people, it’s those who disagree with us who truly help us to grow. The ones who call us out, who point out our weaknesses and flaws.

Yes, it’s the ones who challenge us that make us better.

How EQ helps

Emotional intelligence involves the ability to recognize and understand your emotions, and to use that information to guide decision making.

There are times when you shouldn’t listen to criticism–like when it’s based on falsehood or given in a way that’s meant to destroy your sense of self-worth.

But in reality, that’s not usually the case. And although I encourage delivering criticism in a way that’s constructive and helpful (I’ve come a long way since that first management position), these points are important when we’re giving criticism.

When we’re on the receiving end of criticism, our goal should be to learn from the feedback, and not let emotion close our minds. The key is to be proactive, not reactive. (I discuss this further in part one of this series.)

That being said, what reactions do emotionally intelligent people try to avoid when they’re criticized?

They don’t do the following:

1. They don’t minimize the problem.

When receiving criticism, your first instinct might be to think: Is it really that big of a deal?

Maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t. For the person that brought it to your attention, it was. And you can be sure it will be for others, too.

Remember: When you’re striving for excellence, the small stuff matters.

2. They don’t rationalize.

As a young teen, when Dad came home and asked why I hadn’t taken the garbage out, I would respond:

“Well, I kind of took the garbage out. See, it’s right next to the door. I was planning on dumping it in a few minutes.”

It didn’t help then, and it doesn’t help now.

3. They don’t make excuses.

If someone has the courage to tell you your presentation stunk, don’t waste time explaining that you needed more time to prepare or you didn’t know who your audience would be.

Instead, ask why it stunk. Then listen carefully.

4. They don’t justify themselves.

Okay, this one comes with a caveat. Obviously you shouldn’t automatically take the fall for something you didn’t do…and there are circumstances when you’ll need to defend yourself.

But in general, keeping a learning mindset when it comes to criticism will bring the most benefit. When you see yourself as right all of the time, you’re missing something.

5. They don’t side step the issue.

Politicians and spin doctors are experts at this. But refusing to tackle issues head-on is not only bad form, it’s self-defeating.

The first step in improving any weakness: Recognize that it’s there.

6. They don’t shift the blame.

For some people, it’s always the other guy’s fault. But guess what? Those individuals usually end up pretty lonely.

We can’t control others, but we can work on ourselves. When we accept criticism, apply it, and move forward, not only do we benefit–but others benefit from our example.

Putting it into practice

Let’s go back to that opening story. Although I learned a major lesson that day, we could argue that David didn’t respond with great EQ. But I took his words to heart, asked him why he felt the way he did, and learned from his honesty.

Because I did, he apologized and learned from his mistake as well.

And therein lays the moral: Nobody’s perfect; we won’t always respond in the best way possible.

But if you work at controlling yourself and your emotions, every situation becomes a chance to learn and grow–just like that one from years ago did…

For David and me both.

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