How Quiet Leaders can take criticism less personally

May 9, 2023

< back to blog home

As a Quiet Leader, criticism can be tough to receive, process and let go. Taking it as the gift it sometimes is, can feel impossible, so here’s some thoughts on how receive it and process it in a way that suits your nervous system. 

For a start, what can be perceived as criticism? There are all grades and kinds – for instance well thought through and helpful constructive comment from someone who has our very best interests at heart, they’re trying to help. We may even have asked them for it.

Then we have the unsolicited critics, of all sorts, overt and probably known for it, there are definitely none of our best interests in there. 

And then there’s the coverts – veiled and leave you feeling uncomfortable –  they might deny it’s criticism – confusing and disorientating as you doubt yourself and what you’ve heard. Or maybe they dress it as a ‘joke’. Are you being ‘too sensitive’? It can feel quite personal. 

And then we get to the document, project, proposal reviews covered in tracked changes from bosses.  

The middle two may be public, which makes it all the worse.

They all have an impact on Quiet Leaders. We’re sensitive, we pick up on any anger, frustration, fear, all the emotions underneath these words. 

So we’re processing the words and emotions we’ve picked up, as well as the strong emotions evoked in us. And all past criticism and associated emotions – shame, fear –  might just pile in there too.  

And we do take it personally, when less sensitive people can more quickly and easily take a step back and look at the criticism objectively – asking themselves ‘is it fair?’ ‘What can I take from it?’ And then they dismiss it. It’s not about growing a thicker skin, being able to shrug it off, Quiet Leaders are just different. 

Quiet Leaders  are more empathetic, which means taking on emotions or seeing things from their point of view more easily. So this gets confusing and really down the road of self-blame – you can understand their point of view yet their actions and have caused a lot of hurt, shame and strong emotional vortices in you. 

Feelings of being an imposter (OK, Imposter Syndrome but I hate the term!) and our inner people pleasers quietly run riot – ‘It must be me’, ‘I am not a good enough leader’, ‘How did I get that so wrong?’ And the rush to appease, make it better, apologise even, is hard to resist at times. 

Criticism says more about the person giving it than it does about you, but that’s not much comfort when you’re reeling from the hurt. 

Three things that might help: 

  1. Consider that it’s not about you. The criticism says more about the person giving it than it does about you. Always. They see the world through their own lens, and interpret things and react to them according to their beliefs. If you know them, you might just be able to recall them doing the same to someone else.
  1. Take note of positive feedback. We’re wired to take on negative comments much more readily than positives, it’s a survival thing. We need 3:1 positive to negative experiences to thrive. So pausing to recognise positive feedback, feel it, and take it on board takes effort. Write it down, keep it all together somewhere you can go back and read it when you feel low. 
  1. Take some deep breaths – expanding your belly, exhaling longer than you inhale. Once you feel a little more settled, decide if you agree or disagree, or partly both! You don’t have to agree at all. And if you do, as well or poorly as it was presented, it’s not about your worth as a person. We’re all growing and learning. Next time what could you do differently?