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How to cope with criticism

Support work is sensitive and intimate work. This means there are lots of opportunities for differences of opinion, distress and conflict. These situations can cause intense feelings like anger, disappointment or failure. It is important that you have the skills to manage conflict and criticism to ensure successful visits with your clients.

Here are some tips on handling criticism:

  1. The first principal is not to defend yourself, deny the facts or attack the other person. This will only escalate the situation and emotions.
  2. The next principal is to determine if the criticism is valid or not. If it is valid, acknowledge it and try to change your behaviour. If it is not valid, ignore it or give examples to indicate the opposite.
  3. It’s important to be open to self improvement. See criticism as an opportunity to grow. “I can learn from my mistakes”.
  4. Remind yourself of our human fallibility: “Doing things well is satisfying; but it’s human to make mistakes”.
  5. Think about all your positive traits to decrease the impact of the criticism.
  6. Try to be flexible: “I accept that change is constant. Rules change, goals change, and even I can change”.
  7. If you find you feel an intense emotional reaction to criticism, play for time to calm yourself down. Take time out if you need it and when appropriate share your reaction with the other person in an assertive manner.
  8. Ask for clarification to prevent misunderstandings; “What specifically do I do that annoys you?” or “How would you like me to do it next time?”.
  9. Show that you have empathy for the other person: “It must frustrate you when I…”
  10. Agree where possible, it often takes the heat out of the moment.
Remember that you are responsible for your own feelings. No one can upset you without your permission. Remind yourself of your values as a support worker and practise self-acceptance. It’s nice to have people’s approval, but even without it, we can accept ourselves.
If you have concerns for your client’s well-being, please let them know Independence Australia offers a counselling and psychology service for eligible people with a disability. Click here for more information.