Confidence and Constructive Criticism


Criticism can cut, though some people have higher pain tolerances. But if you don’t consider yourself good at taking feedback, there’s hope.  Receiving constructive criticism is a learnable skill that perhaps ironically, builds confidence.

Why feedback hurts:
If criticism feels like a personal attack, it’s because your brain is probably in fight-or-flight mode. This means that a stress response causes your body to allocate all of your body’s energy towards self-preservation. And in turn, you might feel defensive…and rightfully so: you are responding to a perceived threat.

How confidence counters this:
When you lack confidence, you might see criticism as a validation of your flaws, or negation of your strengths, rather than a highlight of your potential to grow. That’s the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. 

Growth mindset = believing in your ability to change and grow, and fixed = believing that your traits (negative and positive) are not subject to change.

A lack of confidence tends to lock you in that fixed mindset of: “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t change”, or the more protective, “I don’t need to change,” because change poses a threat since you aren’t certain of your own ability to successfully change or the ramifications.

When it comes to criticism, everyone takes it differently. And studies show that it’s not all up to you. A lot of how your brain responds to feedback depends on its chemistry and genetic makeup. However, everyone can build up their first line of defense to feedback by building a buffer to comments that might otherwise permeate you to your core.

Separate the feedback from your own self-worth. This initiates a confidence feedback loop that calms your emotional response to critique, re-opening the channels that shut down when you’re in defense mode.

This doesn’t mean externalizing the feedback so that you deny its relevance to you. It means not internalizing the feedback in a way that threatens your sense of self-worth. It means realizing that your flaws don’t negate your strengths, and that even while your flaws are in the spotlight your strengths are still there, too. Acknowledging imperfections also means acknowledging your potential for growth.

Try going into your next feedback session with a clear sense of your self-worth, rather than relying on the feedback to inform you of this. Once you take your self-worth off the line, criticism becomes less of a threat because there’s much less at stake to be critiqued. And when you feel less threatened, you can let your guard down, and let feedback in.

What’s more: when you confidently let feedback in, you might even befriend it. Whether you agree with it or not, feedback can provide data about you and the feedback giver. Once you process it and decide what to take or leave, that feedback overall help get you that much closer to being the best that you know you can be.


Special thanks to Elior Moskowitz for her research and editorial contribution to this post.

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