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How to Handle Criticism: Strainer Mentality Calculator

Dr. Shanita Williams Assistant Vice President, Learning and Development

In the first part of this series, Personal Growth and Development: Drop the Sponge Mentality explored the importance of feedback for your personal, academic, and professional growth. Feedback gives you an opportunity to identify the positive behaviors you should repeat and identify the negative behaviors you should avoid. This insight is invaluable and can be one of the greatest gifts you have ever received if you have the right mentality.

The Right Mentality

There are two ways to approach feedback: with a sponge mentality or a strainer mentality. People with a sponge mentality approach life "soaking up" every single piece of constructive feedback that comes their way and try to act on it all. Initially, this may sound like a good idea, until you have so much feedback that you are oversaturated and overwhelmed. Do you often find yourself frustrated with a number of things you need to "improve"? Do you ever find yourself thinking that you're not good enough? Do you find yourself feeling like you have so much to improve, but you're not sure where to start? If so, you may be operating with the Sponge Mentality... you've soaked up so much feedback that you have moved from not doing well on a task to beginning to doubt your abilities as a human being.

Extended periods of self-doubt can be destructive and counterproductive to your development. This is why it's so important to drop the sponge mentality and adopt the strainer mentality. Instead of soaking up every piece of constructive feedback that comes your way, strain the excess and hold on to the feedback that would have the greatest impact. The strainer mentality encourages a more strategic approach to feedback and requires you to be intentional about what you focus on and why.

How to Adopt the Strainer Mentality

To adopt the strainer mentality, use the model I developed called the S.I.F.T. The S.I.F.T. model forces you to evaluate the feedback based on some vital variables to help you organize and prioritize your feedback. Here's a breakdown of the model and why each variable is important:

  • Source: It's important to consider the source when prioritizing your feedback. The source is the person who delivered the feedback and they help provide the context and clarity about what they observed. We all have a variety of people that we interact with on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. While feedback from everyone is helpful, it is important to note that feedback from a stranger holds a different weight than feedback from someone with whom you have a trusting relationship.
  • Impact: Understanding the impact of your behavior on yourself, others, the assignment, or project is another vital element when it comes to determining how you would like to respond to the feedback. The impact can be small, medium, or large, but it is important to think through how this behavior affects the various items within your life. The greater the level of impact of the behavior, the more urgency one typically feels to correct the behavior.
  • Frequency: The frequency with which you receive feedback on the same item is important to consider. Feedback that is only mentioned once in a year compared to twice in a week makes a difference. If you receive feedback on a behavior more than once, the behavior is clearly visible which may correlate with an increased level of impact. The more often the behavior is displayed, the greater the risk of affecting others.
  • Trend: Sometimes we see patterns of feedback that show up in multiple aspects of our lives. Other times the feedback may be isolated in only one area of our lives. Either way, it is important to explore whether or not this is a consistent theme in your life. By slowing down and thinking about where the feedback shows up (Work, home, school, etc.), you can position yourself to better plan your approach.

By using the S.I.F.T model, you'll be able to adopt the strainer mentality and better decide what you hold on to and what you let pass you by. Give the model a shot and see if the strainer can sift through your feedback so you can focus on the most meaningful items.


Think about some feedback that you have received recently. Review the grid below to determine if it is something that you should prioritize and hold on to at this very moment. Review each of the variables and circle the number that you feel best represents your thoughts about the feedback received. Lastly, add up all of the numbers to see what you can do to manage your feedback:

S.I.F.T. Model

Source Impact Frequency Trend
Mentioned Once
Only in one area of your life
(2pt) Medium
Mentioned Twice
Two areas of your life
Trusted Contact
Mentioned 3x or more
3 or more areas of your life

© 2017 Shanita Williams

Source + Impact + Frequency + Trend = ___________


If your score is:

10 - 12: Prioritize this feedback: Develop an action plan.

7-9: This item holds merit: Work on these after you focus on other high-priority items.

6 or below: These items can exit the strainer.

Dr. Shanita Williams has been working in the learning and development space for over 10 years. She has extensive experience in designing learning solutions that facilitate employee development at all organizational levels. She is currently the assistant vice president of Learning and Development for SNHU . In her role, she works as a strategic thought partner to five business units and delivers high-impact learning programs to nearly 1,300 employees and 150 managers. Her area of expertise includes: Emotional Intelligence (EQ), DiSC, Limiting Beliefs, Change Management, Coaching, and Feedback. Williams earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership, where her research focused on the lived experiences of working mothers as students. She is the CEO of Momploydent, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is committed to helping working mothers excel academically.

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