I’ve always envied people who can eagerly accept criticism and make positive changes in their lives, their careers, and etc.

I wasn’t born with that gene, and throughout my career I’ve felt ashamed, embarrassed, and even defensive when receiving criticism, even when it was entirely accurate. The moment I hear the words, my mind races and my pulse quickens—first in search of a reason for the assault on my ego and then for a rational excuse for whatever actions are in question.

And I am not alone.

Unfortunately, loads of us react with defensiveness and anger—or worse—retaliation at the person giving criticism. But the truth is, we’re strong enough. We’re strong enough to lower our defenses. We strong enough to open ourselves up to criticism. We strong enough to use it to make ourselves better people, help us maintain relationships, and be more successful in everything we do.

So how does one learn to back off the defensive? The next time you get a call from an unhappy client or a peer criticizes your work, use this six-step process to handle the encounter with tact and grace.

1. ✋Stop. Don’t React to Criticism.

Before you do anything—stop. You’ll likely have at least a single second to make the conscious decision to not react. It might seems like an insignificant amount of time, but even a second is plenty time for your brain to process a situation. Try not to react at all. This means, no dismissive facial expressions, no gestures, and no reactive quips. Stay calm. Focus on your breathing and listen.

2. 🎁It’s a Reward.

Take the next few seconds to remind yourself of the benefits of receiving criticism. It enables you to do tremendous things—like, improve your skills, the products of your work, and your relationships with people. And the best thing is: it will give you the fuel to help you exceed the expectations that your clients have for you.

Often it’s coming from people you might not fully respect—the “VIP” client who doesn’t like to wait 🙄— but remember to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person delivering the criticism. Accurate and constructive criticism even comes from flawed sources.

3. 👂Listen.

The hard part is over—🙌. You’ve avoided reacting, by consciously remembering that criticism is good for you. But before you can be your professional, thoughtful self (as opposed to your combative, Mean Girls self), you’ll need to listen closely.

Don’t interrupt. Listen. After the person is completely finished providing criticism, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to take you from a level 4 to a level 10 in just a few of weeks before your wedding and you want to pay me 50% of my quoted price, is that right?” Avoid analyzing further or questioning the person’s intent; instead focus on understanding their perspective. Recognize they may be preoccupied with something else or be able to express their ideas perfectly. Give them the benefit of the doubt—it’s hard giving criticism 😅.

4. 🙏Be Thankful.

This is the best part: now you get to retaliate with kindness. Look them in the eyes and thank them for sharing their criticism with you. Don’t gloss over this part—savor it, and say, “I really appreciate you caring enough about me to share that with me.” It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, but it does let you acknowledge the effort it took to share.

5. 🤔Clarify.

Processing criticism can provide lots of relief from those feelings of anger, embarrassment, and shame at the beginning of the process. But it’s not time to debate or start an argument. Instead, ask questions to get to the root of the issues being raised and offer possible solutions:

  • Try to find a holistic understanding of the issue: “Can you tell me what inspiring your desire to change your hair so much before your wedding?”
  • Acknowledge the criticism is not in dispute: “You’re right to be surprised by the cost. I didn’t do a great job of explaining how extensive the process is to lift your hair that many levels without damaging it. Integrity is really important to me, and I wouldn’t dream of trashing your hair before your wedding.”
  • Offer solutions: “I’d be willing to offer you some gorgeous options for your wedding at a discount, if you’d hire me to style your wedding party.”

6. ⏲Follow Up.

By this point, you should have a resolution you can both live with. Remember, criticism is not easy to give and it’s certainly not easy to receive. But if you do it more often, you get more frequent opportunities to build great relationships and be better at work. Rituals can help with this:

  • Start your appointments with a safety check: “Welcome back! What worked for you from our last appointment? What should we change? If there’s ever anything you’re not cool with today, service-wise or plain-old conversation, stop me.”
  • End each appointment with by soliciting criticism: “It was great seeing you again. Tell me if there’s ever anything I can be doing better. Byeeeee. 👋”

Constructive criticism is often the only way we learn about our weaknesses—without it we can’t improve. When we’re defensive, instead of accepting and gracious, we run the risk of missing out on this important insight. Remember, criticism is not easy to give and it’s certainly not easy to receive, but it’ll help us now and in the long run.