DEFUSE CRITICISM with 10 Proven Steps

© 2004 Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.

Criticism is an unskilled way to call your attention to something that someone else considers a problem. You probably hate being criticized, so here are steps to take to defuse criticism when it inevitably comes your way.

  1. Acknowledge the “ouch”— privately. Yes, criticism usually hurts, and people who send it your way believe that criticizing you is the only way to get your attention, or to solve a problem.
  2. Allow your feelings to recede. Taking a deep breath, taking a sip of water or counting to 10 may help.
  3. DON’T act defensive or counterattack!
  4. Restate the critical remark in your own words. “I think you just told me that I am hopelessly ineffective…did I understand you correctly?” This is often enough to make your accuser back off and restate the problem more clearly.
  5. Ask for specifics about the criticism until you are sure you understand exactly what behaviors or character traits your accuser is referring to.
  6. Get clear about whether or not you committed the offense. Even if you did something for a very good reason, you still did it.
  7. If you did, own it. Just say, “You’re right, I did do that.” That is probably the last thing your accuser expects to hear and may throw him/her off balance.
  8. If the criticism doesn’t fit, either you are certain you were not responsible for the offense or your accuser is emotionally upset at something outside of your control, change the subject slightly. Ask your accuser about what kind of problem the event created. Respond sympathetically.
  9. Whether or not you intentionally or accidentally caused the problem, offer to do something to help. “What would you like me to do now?” is a great question to ask.
  10. Either do what is asked or negotiate a different solution.

Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., author of Dare To Say It!, is an internationally known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author. For more simple secrets for turning difficult conversations into amazing opportunities for cooperation and success, visit

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