There is no shortage of people out there who want to vent their opinions in the form of unconstructive criticism. Whatever the reason you are experiencing unconstructive criticism or a personal attack, here are a few things to keep in mind to help you deal with it:

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Dealing with unconstructive criticism

Dealing with constructive criticismThere is no shortage of people out there who want to vent their opinions in the form of unconstructive criticism.

There can be all sorts of reasons for this:

– Maybe they disagree with the choices and decisions you have made in your life or work.

– Maybe they don’t like your work.

– Maybe they don’t like you.

– Maybe they have listened to untrue stories about you and have appointed themselves judge and jury on the matter.

– Maybe they have made assumptions about you and have chosen to attack you as if those assumptions are true.

Whatever the reason you are experiencing unconstructive criticism or a personal attack, here are a few things to keep in mind to help you deal with it:

It isn’t actually about you so don’t take it personally.

When someone launches a personal attack on you with unconstructive criticism keep in mind that it isn’t actually about you at all. It is about them. It is about their poor, unhealthy and inappropriate communication style. It is about their standards and level of integrity (or lack of!). It is about their assumptions. It is about how they see the world etc. Some people will approach a situation in a healthy constructive way, some people don’t. Whatever way people communicate with you is about who they are and not about you at all. So don’t take it personally.

Be careful who you listen to.

Unconstructive criticism has no value other than the value you give to it. So choose wisely who you listen to and what value you give to what they say. You can read more on this in this article -> Be Careful Who You Listen To.

Always maintain your own dignity, integrity and personal standards.

Don’t allow yourself to get sucked down to other people’s low standards of communication. Always operate from a position of dignity, integrity and uphold your personal standards and values.

Set strong boundaries

You get to choose what you are willing to engage in and what you won’t. You get to choose what is OK in your space and what isn’t. Choosing not to engage with people who want to force their unconstructive criticism and personal attacks upon you is OK. It is YOUR choice. Set strong boundaries that reflect your choices, protect yourself and that honour your values.

Don’t feed the toxic cycle.

Be careful that what you do in response to a personal attack or toxic communication doesn’t feed the unhealthy cycle and open you up to more of the same. Choose your response wisely keeping in mind that in some circumstances no response might be the best response.

Keep this in mind:

You do not need anyone else’s permission or approval for what you are not willing to tolerate in your life and work.

So the next time you in the firing line of someones unconstructive criticism and personal attacks, remember:

You can’t always choose what happens to you. But you can always choose how you respond.

Choose wisely.

I would love to hear your experiences on dealing with unconstructive criticism. Please share in the comments section below.

Related article:

Download Your Free Transformation in Action Self-Assessment Workbook.

  • Martin Haworth

    Have a little activity that reminds you of all the great things you did in the last 24 hours. Really get used to appreciating them in an objective way. It doesn’t matter how small they are. When I work with clients who struggle with negative feedback, I ask them to lie in bed each night and recall 5 things they did that day that went well – however small to start with – and it changes their self-perspective. We impact the world so positively much of the time, yet we have to appreciate ourselves so much more. This is a skill that can be learnt…

  • Martin, that is such an important thing to do – to keep ourselves grounded in the truth about ourselves and what is good.

  • malcolmwot

    Good stuff as always Ali!

  • Thanks Malcolm. Glad you liked it.

  • Kelly Boyer Sagert

    One of my mentors told me that, when I feel a strong urge to respond immediately to a charged situation, to ask myself if I can wait 24 hours to respond. He said that, usually, you can. And, usually, your response in 24 hours will be more measured (and something you’ll be prouder of) than what you’d say if you responded immediately. I always try to follow that advice.

  • Kelly Boyer Sagert

    And, painful as it could be, it’s possible to provide a constructive response to unconstructive criticism . . .

  • Kelly, yes indeed – so much better and effective to come froma place of responding versus reacting.

  • Very true Kelly. Important to choose our own standards of healthy and constructive communication and hold ourselves to them even in the face of unconstructive communication.

  • Jennifer

    It really is all about them. They’re entitled to their opinions. I’m entitled to and responsible for my response. Not always easy to remember when under attack, but a deep breath can help give me time to put things in perspective. Thanks for the inspiration Ali!

  • Ali Davies

    Jennifer, you are so right – it isn’t always easy. But with practice and repetition we can make our own chosen responses become habits and then it starts to feel easier.

  • Ugh, it’s taken a lifetime for me to be able to accept criticism of any kind. I grew up having to be strong for my mother, so inside I felt I had to be perfect. I’m learning though, so thanks for the reminders.


  • Ali Davies

    Anita, sounds like you have self awareness around this which is a great thing as awareness is the first step in creating change.

  • Yes! Yes! Bravo. I agree and I’m sharing.

  • Ali Davies

    So glad you found it useful Leisa.

  • There’s one more on your list. Maybe they are insecure. Maybe it’s about them.


  • Ali Davies

    Great one Martin. Insecurity can have a significant impact on the style and nature of how people communicate and come across.

  • Haralee

    Great points. It is one of those things that is easier said than done when under attack because some people just corner you and they know it all!

  • You are so right – it can feel very hard. That is why I am a big believer in fostering things like the points above into habits so that when faced with unconstrcutive criticism you are able to respond rather than react.

  • Roxanne Jones

    Excellent reminders! Now to keep them all top of mind when feeling under attack! In my experience, sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do, to give yourself a cooling-off period before responding (as Kelly also suggested).

  • I usually try to ignore the person and then I remove them from my life. Life is just to short for negativity!

  • If they are very toxic, I agree, removing them from your life might be the best option. But I think that sometimes just setting and enforcing boundaries can help enormously. The challenge is knowing what approach to take with who.

  • Hi Roxanne, the way to keep them top of mind when in the middle of ths situation is to work on fostering them as habits and practice them outside of the situation so that they start to become your natural response when the situation arises.

  • 1010 Park Place

    Great post, Ali. I think you’re right: Criticism is more about the person dishing out the harsh words–and what they’re lacking–than the person they’re directing it toward. If criticizing others helps them elevate their own self-esteem, then they’re painting a very sad self-portrait.

  • I especially like the idea of considering the source. It’s very hard to pull back enough to be objective and not look for a whiff of truth in what we’re hearing. But as writers especially, it’s important to realize people say thing sometimes because they can, and not because they care. Worth the effort, but tough.

  • Very true Brenda. Good to learn not to take things personally – I know it can feel hard, but it makes a massive difference.

  • Love that distinction Susan -> “it’s important to realize people say thing sometimes because they can, and not because they care.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Such great advice…and I agree with Kelly Boyer Sagert. My tendency is to defend, defend, defend, and I have adopted this mantra (with thanks to Lisa Nichols): “I have nothing to defend, I have nothing to protect, I have nothing to hide, and I have nothing to prove. I am free.”

    I find when I am living from this place, I’m willing to let people say what they want to say.

  • Hi Karen, it is great that you have that awareness and have found a way to manage it that works for you.

  • 1010 Park Place

    I recently found myself in an extended “situation” that wasn’t as it was described. While I’d like to offer some constructive criticism, so others don’t find themselves in the same situation, I’ve decided it’s probably better not to say anything at all.

  • Sorry to hear that Brenda. Whilst situations like that can be challenging, I think we always learn valuable lessons from them. Onwards and upwards!