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I was surprised and annoyed. My boss had just pointed out that he agreed with what I was saying, but that I should have stopped selling him much earlier – that I was wasting his time as well as my own. He suggested that I should learn when to stop talking.

That was good advice, but it hurt. It was hard for a young man, just entering the business world, to accept. Fortunately, the realization dawned later that his criticism was right on target. I would try to avoid ever making that same mistake again.

To be a success in anything, a person has to learn to accept disapproval. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much, advises Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense. Not all criticism is bad; much of it can be beneficial. The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson admonished, Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. Some negative comments from others may be justified, some may not, but they will always be a part of life. It is important to learn what you can from them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Sue Shellenbarger gives some helpful advice about handling criticism at work. She suggests restating calmly what you are hearing and asking I want to be sure I understand. Is this what youre saying? This response gives the other person a second chance to choose his or her words more carefully, while reducing the level of confrontation.

Shellenbarger quotes Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions, as counseling that when you are criticized, you can say, Thank you very much for the feedback. What Id like to do is think about it. Karsh also says that extra restraint is needed if criticized in a meeting in front of others. He recommends, Dont create a scene. Just nod and keep a smile. You can acknowledge those comments later and suggest that future discussions like that be held on a one-on-one basis.

There may be times when you feel the need to criticize others. Constructive comments are helpful, but destructive criticism is not. When a man points his finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself, reminds lawyer Louis Nizer. And Frank A. Clark, author of The Country Parson, advises us that Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a mans growth without destroying his roots.

When a local North Carolina artist was asked recently about the secret of his success, the thoughtful answer was, Ill tell you what, the recipe for success is being able to take criticism. But playwright Noel Coward highlighted a basic human failing: The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. With a little work, we can overcome this weakness; lets do it.

Jack Goodhue, management consultant, may be contacted by e-mail at

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