Learn how to take criticism, or be prepared to fail at life

Business owners: I feel your pain.

How do you do it? How do you deal with it? How do you wade into our societal pool and find employees who aren’t thin skinned, self-entitled narcissists? How do you successfully weed out the plethora of whiners who fall into a billion pieces if mommy doesn’t pat them on the head and call them special every 45 seconds?

How do you manage to filter out guys like my friend, codename “Steve”?

Here’s an email exchange I had with “Steve” this morning. He asked me to look at his blog and offer him some “honest” feedback. Of course, when people ask for “honest” feedback, what they normally mean is, “I’m awesome at everything, therefore any honest person will surely have nothing but approval and praise for my endeavors.”

But I decided to take Steve at his word. I decided to make the dubious assumption that he would only ask for honest feedback if he, in fact, desired honest feedback.

Well, you know what they say about assumptions:

Dear Matt I read your post about how you got 30 million blog hits and I really enjoyed it. Thank you for the tips!!! If you have some time I was hoping you can glance at my blog…[link]. I started it three months ago and haven’t been able to get anything going with is as far as traffic goes. Can you look at it and tell me what I’m doing wrong if anything?? I’m only a few years younger then you and my biggest goal is to be able to support my self by blogging like you do by the time I’m your age. I’d really love your honest feedback!!   Thank you!!   Steve



Thanks for reaching out. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I did take a look at your blog, and I have two pieces of feedback for you: 

1) Your writing needs work. A few spelling and punctuation errors are inevitable (Lord knows, you can find them on my blog), but your sentences tend to clumsily and confusingly run together. Also, the multiple exclamation points really give off a juvenile, childish vibe. If you want to make a living writing, you need to improve your craft. It’s not there yet. How do you get it there? Write, write, write. And read. And then write some more. And then do some more reading. And then write. Then, for a change of pace, do a little writing. 

2) The content isn’t very good. I read a few of your posts. For the most part, I agree with your points, but you didn’t communicate them in a way that provoked me, entertained me, enlightened me, or educated me. If you can’t do any of those things, I’m not going to be inclined to return to your blog. It’s not enough to be right — you have to be engaging. And, as they say in the radio industry, never be boring. In terms of driving traffic and earning money, boring is the worst thing you can be. Boring is death. Never be boring. Be provocative, be entertaining, be enlightening, be educational. Never boring. Unfortunately, right now, you’re boring.

Keep working at it, but keep your day job for the time being. You have ambition, and that’s a start.  

I hope this helped. 



Matt I always liked you even though all  of my friends and everyone I know think your a f***ing assh*le. Now I realize they were right. You don’t have to be such an arrogant prick. By the way %80 of what you write is boring so I think you need to take your own advice. You can say what you want but at least my content doesn’t suck like yours. Read the comments on your blog some time.. everyone hates you. Now I know why after you attacked me just to make your self feel superior…… Assh*le.   -Steve



That was a little more entertaining, but still pretty boring. 


Again, employers, God bless you. I know there are millions of Steves out there, and you have to rely on them to actually, you know, do things. Not just do things, but do things well. And you better hope they do it well, because if they don’t, your criticisms will not be warmly received.

You: Steve, I need you to improve in some areas

Steve: WHAT?! ME?! But I’m SPECIAL! YOU need to improve on your FACE!

You: You’re fired.


Government: You were mean to Steve. Now give him six million dollars.

I’m not saying that Steve is necessarily in the majority, but he does represent a growing problem. A lot of people just can’t take constructive criticism anymore. This is a very dangerous attitude, and it’s the sort of demeanor that makes growth and success impossible.

So I thought about it for a while, and I’ve decided to give Steve a little more feedback; this time it will be of the unsolicited variety. I am addressing this to Steve, but it applies to all of the Steves in the nation. Particularly the young Steves and Stevettes who have high hopes for the future, but — due to their self-obsessed refusal to entertain the notion that they might NOT be the perfect, flawless snowflakes they imagine themselves to be — little chance of fulfilling any of those hopes.

This is my plea. My intervention. My last ditch appeal.


There are two types of criticisms — constructive and destructive. Here are two examples, which I’m just pulling out of thin air.

Constructive: your writing is confusing and bland, now here are some things you can do to improve.

Destructive: you’re an arrogant prick, a f***ing assh*le, people hate you, and you’re also an assh*le.

Your success in life will rely on your ability to ignore the second type and listen to the first. You’ll notice that the first brand of criticism often concentrates on an activity or an action. It may be blunt, even undiplomatic, but that doesn’t matter. Winners know how to absorb and process blunt criticism. Winners don’t need it to be coated in sugar and chocolate. They don’t have time to be pampered and coddled. Besides, they have far too much self-respect. “Give it to me straight,” they say. And they mean it.

Destructive criticism, on the other hand, attacks you on a personal level. Note: not all personal criticisms are necessarily destructive. For instance, I started this post by calling you “thin skinned” and “whiny.” That’s a critique of you personally, but you’ve earned it. You can’t go around behaving like a thin skinned whiner and expect the rest of us to never point it out.

Here’s the good news: you can change those characteristics. You can change them right now, if you like. You can lash out at me for making an observation, or you can work to change the thing that I have rightly observed.

I want you to. I really do. And herein lies the distinction between destructive and constructive criticism. The destructive criticizer simply wants to hurt the person they’re criticizing. They WANT you to be whatever they’re calling you, because it affords them the opportunity to tear you down. The destructive criticizer is trying to demean you, not help you.

Your response to me was a poignant example of destructive criticism. You became defensive and panicked when I didn’t give you the validation you desired. You then attempted to avenge your bruised ego by knocking me down a couple of pegs.

As far as that goes, you’ll have to try A LOT harder. I get destructive criticism all the time. Like, every day. Like, every hour of every day. But I also get plenty of constructive criticism — even constructive criticism that essentially communicates the points you were maliciously expressing. Namely, I’m rude and hurtful, etc.

See, the constructive criticizer wants you to improve on your weakest areas. He wants you to succeed, so he’s helping you identify the things that might impede your success. The constructive criticizer will often couch his critiques with useful advice — advice which he hopes you consider, because he earnestly desires to see you become the best version of yourself.

The problem with your inability to accept constructive criticism is that it stems from a greater, more problematic, overarching inability to accept the fact that you are not perfect. You won’t listen to criticism because you believe all criticism to be unwarranted. You believe it to be unwarranted because you think that your abilities, your personality, and your accomplishments represent the pinnacle of humanity’s potential. This attitude is poisonous and insane. Also, it suffocates your true potential by putting you under the delusion that everything you do is automatically the best that anyone has ever done. It makes YOU the ultimate standard bearer for everything and anything.

And that’s a tragedy. You have now effectively tied a chain around the universe and pulled it all down to your level. All the truth and beauty in God’s creation has been cut off at the knees so that you can stand above it. You have no need to climb, or strive, or try, because you are already at the top of the world.

I ask that you try an experiment. Just do this for a day. Just one day. Try to go about your day under the following four pretenses: 1) You are not perfect. 2) You could stand to improve in every single facet of your life. 3) People who point out your flaws or critique your actions aren’t necessarily motivated by cruelty, hatred, and animosity. 4) Some people know how to do certain things better than you know how to do them, and you should be grateful if they take the time to offer you guidance and insight into their areas of expertise.

Try to navigate one 24 hour span like the sort of person who believes these four things.

I think you’ll be better for it.

I want you to be better. I want myself to be better. I think we both have plenty of work to do.

P.S. Constructive criticism has to be honest. You weren’t honest when you said that “everyone” hates me. I happen to know for a fact that my parents, my wife, and my kids don’t hate me. So it’s everyone minus, like, five people.

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470 Responses to Learn how to take criticism, or be prepared to fail at life

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Three Special Snowflakes at Work | A Northern Observer

  2. Robert Durtschi says:

    reminds me of a comment Randy Pausch made in his last lecture (around 9:50) http://www.cmu.edu/randyslecture/
    “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you any more that means they gave up”

  3. Rene Yoshi says:

    I don’t hate you either, and I love your blog. Your writing is engaging, informative, provocative, and even entertaining at times. Thank you for being honest.

  4. Laura says:

    I don’t hate you, Matt.

    When my kids get to High School, your blog will be required reading. Not only is the content interesting, engaging, relevant and educational, it is a great example of proper grammar, good vocabulary, and advanced writing style. Thanks for being so awesome.

  5. Danielle Hull says:

    I love your blog! And I really want a link to Steve’s blog! He’d appreciate the traffic then try to figure out where it all went in a few days 😀

  6. robr says:

    Matt, I’ve not read your blog in a couple of months but I’m glad I read it today after a friend sent me a link to this gem. I saw myself so clearly in some of the things you said and it made me wonder why I am so sensetive to critisism, especially from people that only have my best interest at heart. Perhaps it is because I don’t know you that I was able to see myself reflected in your blog. Whatever the reason, I am greatful for your blog and for the truth it allowed me to see abiut myself.

  7. Laurie says:

    I do so enjoy your blog. I have had my son read certain writings that I felt were really important for him to hear. Thanks again!

  8. Kimberly says:

    This blog post is amazing! I have fallen into what seem like “trick” questions quite often when someone asks for a critique. I flat out avoid the question now. This article was very enlightening. Thank you!

  9. The Flowers Fall says:

    snowflake…LOL. I laughed so hard at this post. I love your reply after he insulted you. That was epic. I have a twin sister and she is a narcissist. Everything I say to her, I get a reply just like “Steve’s”. If you aren’t stroking her ego, you must be her enemy. This week I tried to tell her some things about herself that were hurting me and her response was “F— You!”. Very mature. Then 15 emails of abuse later, she posted on facebook to all my friends and family about how horrible of a human being I am and the reasons she posted as to why were not even the reasons why I originally emailed her. She basically just posted a bunch of lies because she was mad at me…kind of like the “Everyone hates you” line. So then I tried to email her to smooth things over and again, tell her that her actions were wrong and apologizing if I had hurt her, and her reply was pretty much the same: F off you are to blame because I’m poor…you never loved me. UGH!!! I think its best to just cut the cord with persons of this nature. They need mental help, not a blog post.

  10. James says:

    I beg to differ in the advice to someone who lacks writing skills. I was taught, and still believe that the schedule is “read, read, read, and write.”

  11. karen says:

    Thank you for this article. Even in the Philippines, I’ve had to deal with Steves and Stevettes. I’m a business owner, and recently, one Stevette under my employ acts exactly like this. I fired her there was no longer any point despite the many chances I have given her to correct herself. Now, she’s unemployed and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Good luck to her.

  12. Tony says:

    Well, there is one additional point to be made on this topic.

    Just because you’re offering criticism, doesn’t mean you’re offering constructive criticism.

    Yes, there are many that need to learn how to receive it, however there are many people that don’t know how to provide it as well. A follow on blog from Matt would be appropriate on how to provide constructive criticism. Although this blog does highlight many of the core requirements.

    I suppose anyone with the capability for critical thought can extract the advice for giving good constructive criticism from this blog.

  13. ummsaara says:

    Thank You Matt ! I was once a thin skinned whiner.. but not anymore.

  14. The Chiselled Squirrel says:

    Reblogged this on The Charity Squirrel and commented:
    very true

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  17. Lorien says:

    Look up constructive and then look up negative. Then go back and read what you wrote to “Steve.”

    I agree Steve could have handled it differently and that he showed his ass in his reply, however you have a lot to learn about using your manners to critique your friends work.
    You sounded like his boss rather than a friend trying to productively help improve someones writing skills. Just like your attempt to convince us that “Husbands Don’t Need to Earn their Wives Respect.” Brutally honest should be reserved for those who deserve it.

    • Austin9492 says:

      It seems to me that the ‘Steve’ in question wasn’t an actual friend of Matt’s and instead was one of the readers of this delightful blog. A stranger asks for your advice and in my opinion, you, as the advisor, have no obligation to be kind about it. The old “Beggars can’t be choosers” saying comes into play as well. The person on the receiving end should consider it as criticism, helpful, “I want you to improve.”, “You have potential.” criticism. I agree with Matt fully.

      To ‘Steve’, and those like him, don’t complain about free advice given to you, especially when the one you ask gets paid for what they do. If you want and ask for advice from a professional, don’t be shocked when they decide to treat you like a professional and critique you at their level, with their standards.

      If you want advice and criticism that cater to your ego, and that won’t help you improve, then just ask your favorite plump Great Aunt Jinni to read your blog, and be happy with her exclamations of “It’s VERY interesting!” “Really, really neat Stevie!” “I’ve always known you were the brightest bulb!”

  18. Aaron N. says:

    Am I the only one who really feels like we need to see the blog in question? For uh….research. That’s it. For research.

  19. whyindeed says:

    Know what is the most disappointing?

    Guys like Steve, or drunk rednecks guy, or that ashtawhatever guy:

    You are not men, you are not even boys. You are effeminate, angry, bitter, sissy little men who probably are also losers in the game of life. You’re girly, in the bad sense of the word.

    I laugh in your pudgy little faces! Thanks for showing us all what a bunch of overly sensitive children you are – it makes it all the more enjoyable to watch you writhe in frustration over your losery failures.

  20. Pingback: Grace and Truth « The Spark Blog

  21. Susan says:

    Loved this! Lol’d at the PS!

  22. Paul Daniel says:

    I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.

    Or (even better)

    Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

    Or (the best)

    Forgive me Lord, for I am a sinner.


    Dear Matt: I am not a blogger, and really don’t have a real interest in becoming a “professional” blogger. I will say that although I don’t agree with everything you say, I sure like the way you say things. It is refreshing to read thoughtful, carefully worded prose and have it be challenging, entertaining, and informative at the same time. I am going to make a selfish request. In light of the above I am sending the following attachment. If you have a moment please review and critique. Worry not, as my feelings are not on the table here (or on my sleeve) I simply wanted a pair of “professional” eyes to run this by. Its a bit dated, but at the time, it struck a chord within my spirit, and I just had to speak out. Thanks. Keep up the good work, and BTW, in reference to another topic you posted on pit bulls, I have had pit bulls (including a kennel) for years without incident. Could it be that is because I respect them and know their capabilities, and risks??? Like gun ownership, there is a key word and its called Responsibility. Pretty simple really. Sincerely, Benjamin Louis Doswell.

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