14 Ways to Accept Criticism Without Being Defensive

I see it all the time – couples who want to improve their relationship by sharing things their spouse could do better. Heck, even outside of marriages – things like relationships with your best friend, or perhaps dealing with your boss at work – there are times in life when you receive criticism, and many times, it’s not fun.

After all, who likes to hear a list of negative things about themselves, especially when those points are true?

However, it’s important to be able to take and hear critical feedback without without getting defensive. People who can accept criticism at face value are able to make positive changes, and take their relationship or situation to the next level.

If you tend to get defensive in your marriage, your job or with friends and family members, you may have trouble growing and making healthy, long-lasting changes. These tips can help change your perspective on accepting criticism.

1. Actively Listen

Active listening means that you’re really hearing the feedback rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. It’s really the most important thing you can do when you’re receiving criticism. Give the conversation your full attention, concentrate, respond and make sure you can remember the main points.

You want to shut off the part of your brain that starts coming up with answers and pushback to what’s being said. Your defense is really beside the point right now. What does matter is being able to listen actively to what the person is saying and process it without the situation turning into a debate.

2. Ask Questions

It’s important to ask questions to fully understand where you have room for improvement. This might (and probably will) feel unnatural, but it’s one of the most important things you can do when receiving criticism. It’s hard enough to receive said feedback – it’s a whole other level to start asking questions about it so that you can get more information about where you can improve.

When you start asking questions, have an eye toward understanding the feedback. The point to your questions is not to find a flaw in the criticism, but rather to fully digest it. Remember that most of the time, the person is giving you feedback to see positive changes.

3. Understand Why Feedback is Important

Others can see flaws in you that you typically can’t see, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s true, people tend to be their own worst critics. The problem is that you’re too critical where you shouldn’t be, and you may have blind spots to areas where you need feedback the most.

This feedback from others is important because it’s more objective than what you’re going to give yourself. Don’t see feedback or constructive criticism as a reason to be upset. Rather, see it as an opportunity to improve.

4. Take Note

If you struggle with shutting out feedback, write it down so you can remember it. Feedback in your relationships is only as good as what you can remember. If you are in a situation and your spouse, friend or boss is telling you something they’re concerned about, take time to write it down after the conversation is over.

Of course, make your own notes alongside what you’ve been told, figuring out ways to improve what was discussed.

5. Follow Up

Just like taking notes doesn’t sound super fun, following up on the conversation sounds about as much fun as getting a root canal. It’s so much easier to ignore the conversation and pretend like it didn’t happen. If you follow up on the conversation, you’re going to have to revisit the same uncomfortable issues. And when you have the follow up meeting, that’s the time for you to not make counter arguments, but rather discuss and ask what changes the other person is seeing.

Focusing on the positive changes instead of arguing the point shows you’re serious about hearing the other person out and understanding their concerns. Even before you’ve started making progress and positive changes, you’re showing that you take the other person seriously and that it’s important to you.

6. Understand the Other Person’s Point of View

Obviously, getting this type of feedback is unpleasant. But it’s equally important to realize the other person is likely uncomfortable as well.

Especially if the situation is about an uncomfortable topic, like a common disagreement, or something really personal, the person providing the feedback isn’t likely having a lot of fun either.

Be sensitive to the fact that the other person isn’t comfortable; that may make you less anxious and more receptive.

7. Get in front of it

Don’t be afraid to ask for honest and frank feedback from your spouse, friends, family, boss or co-workers. The more you hear it, the more comfortable you’ll be hearing it when it’s totally unsolicited. That’ll make you more capable of hearing the negative feedback and improving your performance rather than getting defensive and rejecting what’s being said to you.

Asking for critical feedback also provides you with more opportunities to become better.

8. Surround Yourself with Frank People

Being around friends or co-workers who aren’t afraid to give feedback on the fly will help you to become more comfortable hearing it. You’ll also be more skilled at giving critical feedback yourself when necessary.

People who aren’t afraid to give feedback to their loved ones, friends and co-workers tend to have great relationship skills – something else that can rub off on you.

9. Understand the Difference Between Effort and Results

Feedback and concerns typically aren’t intended to point out that you weren’t trying hard enough. But it does mean there are things you could change to make life a whole lot easier or better.

This is part of not having to answer back when you’re being confronted with potentially uncomfortable criticism. Your job is to take it in, not fight back.

Being aware that your efforts aren’t being called into question helps you to prevent yourself from becoming negative and resentful.

10. Don’t Ignore the Positive

When your better half, best friend or other person in your life is talking to you about yourself, hopefully there’s some good in there too. Don’t forget that.

The positive stuff may give you a way to make the improvements and changes the other person is hoping to see. What’s more, it’s going to make it easier for you to have the rest of the conversation.

Remember, getting criticism doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but you may be doing something that’s hard to live with.

11. Listen to Intent as Well as Words

Let’s face it, not everybody is good at these conversations. Maybe your husband sucks at communicating. Maybe your wife looks angry while you’re talking. Perhaps your best friend stutters all over him or herself when trying to explain the situation. However, just because it’s inartful doesn’t mean what they’re saying is unimportant.

Sometimes, you have to listen for the ideas behind the words. That can be difficult if you’re confronted with somebody who doesn’t give feedback all that well.

Still, listening to what they’re trying to tell you and ignoring the actual words they’re using will help you to receive feedback better and perform better as a result.

12. Do as They Say, Not as They Do

So maybe your better half tells you that you need to stop yelling so much, even though every time you get into an argument they yell at you. Does that make their feedback any less valid? Absolutely not.

If a person with 10 DUI convictions tells you not to drive drunk, it’s still good advice. Just as you shouldn’t make getting feedback personal, you also shouldn’t make it personal in the other direction.

Good advice from a badly behaved person is still good advice. Lead by example and follow the advice. Don’t be surprised if they start following you.

13. Explain how the Feedback Helped You

Going back over the critical feedback will help you to acclimate yourself to hearing it. Expressing how it helped you will help the person who gave you the feedback better understand how they helped.

This will make hearing critical feedback much smoother in the future as you and the other person make communication easier.

14. Say Thank You

It can be humbling, to say the least, when somebody tells you something you don’t want to hear. This is even more true when you say “thank you” at the end of the conversation.

This lets the other person know you’re taking them seriously and you’re open to these conversations in the future. Opening that door gives you opportunities to grow and become better, without becoming defensive or standoffish.

Obviously, this doesn’t solve every problem. If you have a particularly difficult marriage, friendship, work environment or relationship with family, many times the things you hear may not be constructive, and is instead used as a way to try to control, guilt, or manipulate you. It’s important to learn to discern and understand the difference.

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