top of page
  • Writer's pictureEli

Handling Criticism with Confidence: An Assertive Approach

Unmasking Toxic Criticism: How to Recognize and Shield Yourself from Unfair, Unprovoked, and Self-Serving Feedback.

Toxic Criticism
Abstract Dealing with criticism can be a formidable challenge in our interpersonal journeys. Imagine a situation where your ideas or actions are under scrutiny, and a torrent of critique comes your way. It's a moment that many of us have faced, one that can stir a whirlwind of emotions and reactions. In this article, we delve into the psychology of criticism, shedding light on why people criticize, the diverse forms criticism can take, and the common reactions it evokes. We'll explore how to approach criticism assertively, making it a stepping stone for personal growth rather than a stumbling block. The Nature of Criticism Clearly, some criticism is relevant and beneficial, and you'll be grateful to receive it. In such cases, approach it rationally, embrace the lessons, and integrate them. Cultivating a growth mindset will lead you to view criticism as feedback, distill its wisdom, and apply it to your growth. However, at times, criticism may be entirely unfair, irrelevant, and even detrimental to your well-being. It may solely serve the other person's interests. When you encounter this kind of criticism, the growth mindset approach to transforming it into something positive might not be necessary and could even be harmful. Trust your intuition in these situations. If you feel that there is no apparent basis or reason for someone's criticism, consider it toxic. However, labeling it as toxic doesn't always help you move on and continue enjoying life. It may linger and affect your well-being. If this is the case, keep reading; you might find solace in understanding more about the reason why people are critical. This knowledge might be insightful, helpful, and even ultimately liberating.
Why People Criticize

Emotional overwhelm as a source to criticism

Sarah, a diligent team member, was under immense pressure due to tight project deadlines. She lashed out at her coworker, Michael, over minor issues. Sarah later realized her criticism was more about her frustration than Michael's work.

Criticism often reflects more about the critic's emotional state than an accurate assessment of the person receiving it. Understanding the motives behind criticism, such as mood, unrealistic standards, control manoeuvres, jealousy, competition, frustration, and fear can help individuals respond more effectively.

For nerds: Motives behind criticism

Forms of Criticism You're in the middle of a crucial team meeting, discussing your innovative approach to a project. You can feel the eyes of your colleagues on you as you present your ideas. Suddenly, a senior colleague leans in and remarks, "It's an interesting approach, considering your limited experience in this area." It's subtle, but you can sense the undercurrent - criticism. This is a classic example of indirect criticism that often finds its way into the workplace.
Criticism is not always presented straightforwardly; at times, it may be hidden or disguised in various forms. When you sense that something is amiss, yet no explicit criticism has been voiced, it's essential to be mindful of the different ways people may express their disapproval, including nonverbal criticism, indirect criticism, hostile criticism, and direct criticism.
  • Nonverbal Criticism: This can take the form of a colleague rolling their eyes, sighing, or displaying disapproval through body language without directly articulating their feedback. They refrain from verbal expression.

  • Indirect Criticism: Subtle comments that harbor concealed negative undertones. For example, a statement like, "It's an interesting approach, considering your limited experience in this area," carries the hidden implication that your lack of experience is a significant drawback.

  • Hostile Criticism: This type is characterized by its aggressiveness and openness. It may involve colleagues raising their voices, invading personal space, or employing confrontational body language. For instance, during a heated team meeting, a coworker might aggressively challenge your proposed solution, raising their voice and maintaining intense eye contact.

  • Direct Criticism: This mode of criticism involves open and straightforward communication. An example would be a supervisor telling an employee, "Your recent report contained multiple errors and was submitted late, impacting the team's performance. We need to enhance our performance in these areas to meet our goals.

Reactions to Criticism
Before we discuss how to effectively address criticism, it's important to note that people respond to criticism in diverse ways, and these responses can frequently hinder productive communication. Recognizing these common reactions, like fear, shame, feeling of inadequacy, anger, counterattack or denial is crucial for handling criticism constructively. These skills can help you respond more effectively to criticism and improve your ability to address feedback in various situations.

For nerds: Reactions to Criticism

Assertive Handling of Criticism
  1. Maintains Composure and Prevent Escalation: Assertiveness helps you maintain composure when faced with criticism. Instead of reacting emotionally, which can escalate the situation, an assertive response allows you to stay calm and rational.

  2. Respond instead of react: Consider the critic's style when formulating your response. Rather than countering the criticism, chose to acknowledge and validate Their Perception and Emotions instead of acting all defensive. It will leed to a more constructive discussion.

  3. Enhances Problem-Solving: In the midst of criticism, it's easy to get caught up in what went wrong. However, it's often more productive to shift the conversation towards the desired outcome. For example, when criticized about a project's delays, you might say, "I appreciate your feedback. What steps can we take to get back on track and meet our deadlines?"

QuickTips: Further Strategies to address criticism

Building resilience to criticism
Building Resilience to Criticism Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, challenges, or criticism, and it promotes the idea that life is a continuous journey of progress and growth. To cultivate resilience and maintain a cool and composed demeanor when facing criticism, mental distancing plays a crucial role. It involves consciously stepping back from an immediate emotional reaction during the heat of the moment. By creating this mental space, you gain better access to your mental resources and rational thinking. This practice allows you to evaluate criticism objectively and respond in a composed and constructive manner rather than reacting emotionally. Repetition is a key aspect of building resilience. Just as with any skill, regularly practicing mental distancing enhances your ability to manage criticism effectively over time. Moreover, ensuring you have ample social support and taking breaks for self-care and self-soothing activities contribute to your overall resilience. These moments of reflection and rejuvenation are like collecting coupons throughout your life, each one contributing to your personal and professional growth. In summary, resilience involves viewing life as an ongoing journey, using mental distancing to remain composed during criticism, and understanding that investing in a growth mindset is a valuable and continuous process.
Assertiveness empowers you to handle criticism positively, using it as an opportunity for self-improvement and growth while maintaining a composed and confident mindset. It promotes effective communication and helps you navigate the complexities of personal and professional relationships with resilience and grace. By being assertive, you can effectively shield yourself from toxic, unfair, or unprovoked criticism. You trust your intuition and respond accordingly, minimizing the impact of detrimental criticism on your well-being. To incorporate effective strategies from the realm of psychology for handling criticism assertively, consider seeking support, possibly from a counsellor, to help you implement these insights into your life. Learn how to deal with criticism with a growth mindset, enabling you to shield yourself effectively from toxic, unfair, and unprovoked criticism.
Training in assertiveness is the first step toward managing both constructive feedback and toxic criticism. Schedule a free consultation and explore how Kus Counselling can support you in developing a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling attitude towards criticism. REFERENCES

§ Ames, D., Lee, A., & Wazlawek, A. (2017). Interpersonal assertiveness: Inside the balancing act. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(6).

§ Banks, R. (2020). The keys to being brilliantly confident and more assertive: A vital guide to enhancing your communication skills, getting rid of anxiety, and building assertiveness. Author.

§ Bolton, R. (2012). People skills: How to assert yourself, listen to others, and resolve conflicts. ReadHowYouWant.

§ Folkman, J. (2013, October 10). The 6 secrets of successfully assertive leaders. Forbes. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from

§ Gallo, A. (2012, August 21). How to be assertive (without losing yourself). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from

§ Molinsky, A. (2017, August 31). A simple way to be more assertive (without being pushy). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from

§ Murphy, J. (2011). Assertiveness: How to stand up for yourself and still win the respect of others. Author.

§ Vagos, P., & Pereira, A. (2010). A proposal for evaluating cognition in assertiveness. Psychological Assessment, 22(3), 657–665.

§ A Proposal for Evaluating Cognition in Assertiveness, September 2010, Psychological Assessment 22(3):657-65

22 views0 comments


bottom of page