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How To Effectively Seek Criticism

Updated: May 19, 2023

Other people see things about you that you can’t see. In part, this is because they observe you from a third-person perspective, which leads to different observations than the ones you get from inside your own mind.

That’s why seeking outside criticism can be a valuable resource for self-improvement and why it’s easy to miss important opportunities to improve, in environments with little criticism.

For instance, imagine you've been working with a team at your job and haven't heard any feedback for a while. It could be tempting to think that you're doing everything well. After all, no news is good news, right?

However, after effectively seeking criticism, you may find out that people you work with don't feel comfortable providing feedback because (for example) you have responded defensively to feedback in the past.

But how can you seek criticism effectively? Whom should you ask for this feedback? How can you most usefully process the feedback you receive? And how can you handle difficult emotions that criticism can involve (and make the process more pleasant in the first place)?

To help you out in this journey, we’ve put together a practical checklist for seeking criticism:

  • Choose an area of your life that you’d like to improve, about which others might have useful feedback for you.

  • List at least one person that you know you could ask for constructive criticism in this area of life (being careful to consider whether they will be able to offer you accurate criticism),

  • Define which aspects of yourself you are going to ask for feedback.

  • Set dates for when you plan to ask the people you listed for feedback.

  • Plan how to frame the conversation in such a way as to elicit feedback that is both (i) honest and (ii) won't be too emotionally difficult for you to hear. Some examples:

    • "I'm really looking to improve in this role. What is an area I could prioritize improving my skill in?". After they respond: "What are some concrete steps you'd recommend I take to start improving in this area?"

    • "I know that at times I've done things that have made you feel less close to me. I really value our friendship and would like to be close for the rest of our lives. I'm wondering about some concrete things I could do or change about my behavior to strengthen our friendship."

  • After going through these steps, it's time to act!

It's important to emotionally prepare yourself to hear feedback that could be negative. Remind yourself that it's much better to know the truth to improve your flaws than to remain in denial and hang onto those flaws longer than necessary. If you're not convinced, consider two world:

  1. you are ignorant of your flaws but the people around you keep witnessing them (and being negatively impacted by them)

  2. you learn of your most serious flaws and work to improve them, and eventually no longer have those flaws!

Which of these worlds would you prefer to live in? If it's (2), it might be time to start seeking criticism!

Since hearing criticism can be emotionally difficult, waiting for a time when you're in a positive mood to ask for feedback is useful. If you start in a low mood, anything negative will be harder to hear.

For extra tips and to build an interactive plan for seeking criticism, try this quick tool:

We hope you find these tips and tools useful! To finish, we leave you with this quote from Clearer Thinking founder, Spencer Greenberg:

"When you learn about a flaw for the first time, you’re probably going to wince. It hurts when you realize you’ve been doing something wrong for so long, and that people may have been judging you for it. This is one of the big reasons that so few people actually seek criticism. But if you set the goal of BEING a great person rather than just THINKING you are great person, then criticism is less difficult - and, in fact, essential - to hear."

Spencer Greenberg


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