Criticism is not a personal attack

Discipline: Do not consider painful what is good for you.

One thing I have seen again and again is that certain people consider criticism — any form of criticism — as personal attack. It does not matter that you make it about the issue, the behavior, the work, and not about the person. These people think that if you criticize their work, or their behavior, or their arguments, or whatever but their their person — it’s an attack of them as a person, their value as a human being.

Looking back, I’ve encountered reactions to criticism like:

  • “stop taking everything I say literally”
  • “stop being so judgmental”
  • “stop teaching me”
    (not sure about the translations here, it was emotional, and let’s just say these people resented being taught they were wrong, even if you provided evidence and argued well)

And personally, I think that’s (almost) the worst thing a person can show.

If you are creative, if you want to contribute, hell, if you want to improve, you need to be open for criticism. Not trolling, not abuse, but other points of view, esp. if they are well argued for.

At least, if you actually want to be good (for something), and not just appear to be good (at something).


  1. I believe you are German, correct? As is my boyfriend and some other friends. One friend noted to her son’s principal that American schools in general do not provide as a deep an education as German schools. The principal seemed to take it as a criticism, rather than an observation. I have noticed in myself that I interpret some criticism as personal, rather than an observation. I wonder if there are some cultural aspects influencing how criticism is delivered (for example, with or without suggested actions to address the criticism) and perceived (personal attack vs. an observation which could yield improvements, or even simply an observation). Don’t like to generalize, but I’ve noticed some loose trends in my small circle. Here a French dance instructor had troubles getting one choreographer (Chinese national) to update part of her dance. He tried to be as diplomatic as he could (usually he was abrasive) but nothing worked. Another Chinese national told her, “It’s no good. Just doesn’t work” and the choreographer changed her dance. So maybe who’s delivering the criticism plays a role, as well.

  2. Yup, I am. And I think you’ve got a point (and yup, I also take some criticism personally). There are probably cultural aspects (e.g., in some cultures it’s bad form to say “No.”), and perhaps other factors as well. But personally I think the issue remains the same. Whether someone uses “This is difficult.” to express “No, hells no, not even over my dead body I’d come back as a Zombie to stop you.” shouldn’t make that much of a difference if the other person understands the criticism. Okay, in this example, there wasn’t any but “No.” But yeah, what matters is that the other person takes criticism seriously and at best independently of who makes the criticism. The criticism might still be wrong, but that’s a conclusion that requires at least some checking.

    In short, after investing a huge amount of time and effort in a creative idea, a creative person needs to be able to step back and evaluate it. To see whether it works. To listen to others. One reason why it’s sometimes beneficial to ask others early on … they might be wrong, but they might also catch some flaws.

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