How to Accept Criticism With Class

January 14, 2021 by Deborah Christensen MSN, APRN, AOCNS®

Quick: what’s your first reaction when you hear the word criticism? Do you brace yourself for feelings of failure and put up a defensive wall? It’s hard to respond otherwise, but try to look at it differently. Criticism can be positive if we accept it with class and let it help us gain knowledge about ourselves.

Constructive criticism or feedback typically involves a performed task, process, or behavior. It can improve ( our self-confidence and self-awareness, which in turn increases our ability to use feedback for self-improvement, collaboration, and improved patient care.

What the Research Tells Us

Nine nursing schools participated in a study ( looking at what themes emerged after undergraduate nursing students viewed a presentation about giving and receiving feedback. The most consistent theme across all of the institutions was that feedback provides an opportunity for improvement, followed by the realization that emotional reactions to criticism were often triggered from previous experiences where feedback was not given respectfully. Students noted that such experiences could be reframed when they reflected on any self-awareness they gained from the experience. See the sidebar to read all of the themes uncovered in the study.

How to Practice

The Sintelly educational platform ( provided strategies for accepting and learning from criticism.

Pause for a moment. Pausing gives you a chance to act positively rather than react in a way that could leave you feeling demoralized. Use the pause to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this situation?”

Ask questions and show curiosity. Seek to gain answers. What needs to be improved? What does the other person want to see happen as a result of the improvement?

Don’t take it personally. Separating yourself emotionally from the criticism increases your ability to see what needs to be done.

When you follow these simple steps—pause, ask questions, and separate emotions—you can increase your chances of accepting criticism and learning from what others have to tell you.

Copyright © 2021 by the Oncology Nursing Society. User has permission to print one copy for personal or unit-based educational use. Contact for quantity reprints or permission to adapt, excerpt, post online, or reuse ONS Voice content for any other purpose.