Criticism or Critique?

Bill Abbate

Who likes unsolicited criticism? Then again, who cares for criticism at all? If you are like most of the human race, you are lousy at accepting it and prefer not to receive it in any form.

Did you know there is a better way to ask for and take input from others? Read on to learn how to deal with criticism using two very helpful techniques.

Criticize or critique?

Having input from others is not only good, but it can also save us from embarrassment. The next time you ask for such help, rephrase it to receive the best results.

Change your request from asking for criticism — constructive or otherwise — to something more useful. Ask for a critique instead. Whether it is something you have written, an idea, or something you have made.

There is a big difference between critiquing and criticizing.

To critique means to evaluate something, including pointing out positive and negative attributes. Critiquing something makes it about the thing/object/subject that is examined rather than about you personally.

To criticize leans toward finding fault, often in a disapproving, negative way. Yes, there are different kinds of criticism, such as positive, negative, logical, constructive, etc. However, criticism almost always leans toward the negative in the real world, so it’s best to receive a critique and not a criticism when possible.

The reality of life is criticism is common and difficult to avoid. If you are alive, you have received criticism and know how it can sting. Yet, criticism is an important part of shaping us and making us who we are.

Unfortunately, criticism can do much damage when given the wrong way. This is where changing your mindset comes into play.


Rather than viewing criticism as bad or a personal attack, learn to find value in it and use it to grow and mature. If you post anything to social media in this current age, be prepared for criticism. At times they will take it to a ridiculous extreme. But remember, when they do this, it says more about them than it does about you!

“Often those that criticize others reveal what he himself lacks.” Shannon L. Alder (1969-present)

Some people have a “thick skin” and have no problem dealing with criticism from almost anyone about practically anything. While it sounds like this may be a desirable trait to possess, it can work against you. What could you miss by completely ignoring criticism? A great deal!

To dismiss criticism in life is to dismiss opportunities. Anytime you can improve in some small way, it can enhance your entire life.

Let’s say someone has said to you, “you always take things too personally.” Do you? It may be true if you hear it from more than one person. If it is true, why not work on it? Do some serious self-reflection or find someone to help, such as a coach or therapist.

In a corporate setting, taking things too seriously can hold you back. But if you conquer it, you may find your career moving forward and upward at a more rapid pace. Otherwise, you could wind up stuck.

An important thing to understand about most criticism is it usually contains a kernel of truth. When you find this bit of truth, learn from it, and improve yourself and your life.

When you take criticism personally and come away hurt, ask yourself these questions:

  • “What does this say about me?”
  • “What kernel of truth does it hold?”
  • “What opportunity might it contain?”

Take every opportunity to use criticism to help you grow while thickening your skin to unwarranted criticism.

Accepting Criticism

As stated, the way you accept criticism says a lot about you. It tells you who you are, how much confidence you have, and where you will likely go in your career and life.

One of the great benefits of receiving criticism is uncovering blind spots. Most of us have blind spots that can hinder our relationships. Look at any criticism or critique you receive for a potential blind spot. When you suspect you have one, work on overcoming it. In this case, what you can’t see or don’t know can hurt you, so be alert for all potential blind spots.

“We all have strengths, weaknesses and blind spots. In fact, an average person has 3.4 blind spots.” Bill Hybels (1951-present)

Having had many hundreds of direct reports during my long career, you may seldom hear what we are about to discuss. But if you can put yourself in the boss’s shoes, you will understand. Let’s look at a blind spot many people have — being blind to how others see you because of how you deal with criticism.

Which would you prefer working for you, an employee that can take criticism or one who can’t? The choice is obvious, isn’t it? Who would you want working for you, someone stuck in their ways or who can learn, grow, and mature? Again, the choice is obvious.

Ask yourself these questions about how you are at work:

  • “Am I seen as someone who can or can’t take criticism?”
  • “Am I seen as a stick in the mud or as a flexible employee who wants to learn and grow?”

I bet you can pretty much guess which is the desired employee. Who would you choose, the one who can’t and won’t, or the one who can and will?

An employer wants people who can perform their duties consistently, eagerly, and without complaint. This applies to everyone from the CEO to the laborer and everyone between them. No one is exempt from this rule. No one. Owner included.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give us what we want. Know this; if anything is going to change, the change must start with you. If you wait for everyone or anyone else to change, well, don’t hold your breath!

This same principle also applies to any relationship, at work, outside work, and at home. Wouldn’t it be great if the world contained only mature, responsible adults? Well, some are, but most aren’t. That is a fact of life, and it’s something with which we must deal.

When you change how you see criticism in life, you change yourself radically. Learn to ask for what you really want. If you want someone to critique something, be sure they understand the definition as well as you. When criticisms come, use them as opportunities to learn more about yourself and your abilities or lack thereof. Turn them into positive growth rather than being hurt or offended. Grow some thicker skin but don’t make it too thick!

“I have a thick skin, but I have a heart.” Dan Savage

Final thoughts

The greatest thing most of us can do is work on our mindset. A change in mindset changes everything in life. Simply put, there are two types of mindsets, fixed and growth.

A person with a fixed mindset does not want to change. They think failing makes them a failure. Therefore, they take things more personally and do not like criticism or to be criticized, even though they may dish it out.

“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.” Emmet Fox (1886–1951)

A growth mindset is open to trying new things. When they fail, they do not see themselves as a failure. They will see most criticism containing an opportunity for them to learn and grow.

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

Most of us have each type of mindset in different areas of life. Which do you lean more toward, a fixed or growth mindset?

Either way, the more you shift toward a growth mindset, the more opportunities you will find and the greater your accomplishments will be in life.

I leave you with a bit of sage advice from a great man:

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” John Wooden (1910–2010)

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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