5 ways to develop a thick skin

Develop a thicker skin by getting angry and channeling that energy, rather than allowing yourself to be sad.

Story highlights

  • Five experts in the art of parrying criticism share their best strategies for developing thick skin
  • Comedian Jenny Slate says to be confident is yourself, your own opinion of yourself is what matters most
  • Take negative energy and use it to go back to work and push even harder says author Lisa Alther
Be (a Little) Egotistical
For some, having a thick skin means preparing for the worst -- arming yourself for a huge battle. But that notion allows negativity to define you. Rather, I work to maintain an unwaveringly extra-positive self-image. Even when my contract wasn't renewed on Saturday Night Live last year, I remained 100 percent confident in my abilities. One decision on someone else's part, whether they're affirming or rejecting you, is ultimately minor. You are the constant, and your own opinion of yourself is what matters most.
Jenny Slate is a Brooklyn-based actress and comedian. With Dean Fleischer-Camp, she recently cowrote the book "Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me" ($19, amazon.com).
Remember: It's Not You; It's the Situation
During a game, coaches and players can yell and scream and make very personal comments -- which is when I remind myself that they're just upset about the call. They aren't attacking me. Instead of bristling and reacting, I calmly ask, "Are you talking to me?" or "What did you say?" With those questions, I give the person a chance to back off and take stock of what he's saying. My unruffled demeanor causes the coach or player to reassess his own approach.
Bill Carollo officiated NFL games, including two Super Bowls, from 1989 to 2008. He is the current director of officiating for the Big Ten Conference, based in Park Ridge, Illinois.
Practice Selective Listening
The setup and menu at my restaurant are unorthodox. The cuisine is from a specific region in Thailand, the dishes are meant to be shared, and most of the plates should be eaten with your hands or just a spoon. Not everyone is going to enjoy the experience, but I can't always accommodate everyone's desires and expectations. If I did, I would be serving generic meals, because I would be trying to please everybody instead of doing what I do best.
Andy Ricker, the chef and owner of Pok Pok, in Portland, Oregon, was named the best chef in the Northwest by the James Beard Foundation this year.
Get Angry, Not Sad
When I first started writing, I had a very hard time getting published. Over the course of 14 years, I collected about 250 rejection slips. I could have just gotten hurt and depressed. But I chose to become defiant, saying to myself, "Someday they'll be sorry. I'll write an even better story, and I won't send it to them." To this day, each time I'm criticized, I take that negative energy and use it to go back to work and push even harder.
Lisa Alther is the author of six novels. Her most recent novel is "Washed in Blood" ($26, amazon.com). She lives in New York City and Burlington, Vermont.
Focus on Something Good About Your Criticizer
When you anticipate a hurtful comment, you relay fear or dread with your eyes and/or body language -- and that will make the critique more likely to happen. So try this: Find a positive attribute of the person criticizing you. It could be as minor as the color of her fingernail polish or the charming way she laughs. Think about that the next time you see her and your warmth will be reflected in your eyes and your demeanor. She will feel respected, and nine times out of 10, she'll reciprocate back to you.
Elayne Savage, Ph.D., is the author of "Don't Take It Personally!: The Art of Dealing With Rejection" ($17, amazon.com). Her psychotherapy and workplace-coaching practice is based in Berkeley, California.