How to Develop a Thick Skin

How to Develop a Thick Skin
Photo by Andrew Liu

Wouldn’t it be great if we could hear criticism on an almost daily-basis, and simply brush it off? Having a thick skin allows us to continue on with our work and life without worrying what other people have to say, as we are comfortable in our own skin.

Having a thick skin is a positive character trait. There is a measure of self-reliance around people who have developed a thick skinned personality; they’re not put off by the ups and downs of life, as they know that your words or actions can’t touch them.

In this article, I’m going to look at what it means to have a thick skin, the difference between a thick skin vs. thin skin, and I’ll end on five tips on how to get a thick skin so you can increase your mental toughness and generally become more successful in work and life.

Thick Skinned Meaning

If someone is said to have a thick skin this means that they are able to keep themselves from getting upset, offended, or disturbed by criticisms about or ill behavior toward themselves or those they care about.

While some people are born with a thick skinned personality, most of us have to learn how to develop one over time. If you’ve ever been the victim of a character assassination you’ll know how important it is that you don’t let every little criticism affect you.

Thick Skin vs. Thin Skin

Having a thick skin vs. thin skin is essential if you work in a field in which criticism is a common occurrence.

Some fields here are obvious. When I wrote my first story for HuffPost the comments on the article itself and, to a greater extent, the Facebook posts accompanying it, were extremely negative. Having a thick skin vs. thin skin in this situation was crucial, and while I can’t say I took none of the comments to heart, reading them certainly toughened me up when, a few years later, my first piece in the New York Times came out to positive reviews except, again, in the comments on the Facebook posts accompanying it.

If you work a service job such as waiting tables and other customer-facing professions in which you have to deal with people—some of whom may not be in the best frame of mind—on a daily basis, you will also need to develop a thick skin vs. thin skin.

How to Get a Thick Skin

Learning how to get a thick skin is one of the most important things you can do for your career if you want to (or already do) work in a field that is ripe for providing criticism at every turn.

While being thin skinned isn’t the end of the world, it does mean that experiencing criticism is harder for you than for those who have developed a thicker skin. Have you ever put yourself out there, at school, work, or even at a family gathering, and, having felt an air of disapproval at the end of the experience, dwelled on this feeling for many days afterwards? If you have, you could benefit from growing a thicker skin.

Here are five tips on how to get a thick skin:

  1. Don’t take criticism to heart. Whether you’re being criticized in the workplace or at home, don’t take it to heart. While some people enjoy criticizing others just “because,” remember that in most cases the criticism is an opportunity for you to learn from what is being said, and grow as a result of it.
  2. Assume that other people are having a bad day. I once read that whenever a baby cries we instinctively assume that they’re feeling a certain emotion (often hunger or tiredness). One way to build a thick skin is to assume that anyone you’re interacting with is having a bad day, and take their words with a grain of salt.
  3. Don’t take rejection personally. You didn’t get through to the next round in a job interview? Oh well. Someone “ghosts” you after one date? It’s their loss. Learning how to toughen up and not take rejection personally will change your whole outlook on life—for the better.
  4. Whenever you hear no, imagine you heard “No, but...” Following on from the last tip, whenever you’re rejected from a job interview, project request, or anything else in which you were excited to potentially be a part of, consider the rejection as a way to pivot and move forward in another direction.
  5. Put it all into perspective. Life is too short to feel slighted at every turn. When you get a thick skin you quickly realize how much stuff you were taking to heart before, and how much of it was entirely unnecessary. Don’t worry, be happy, and the rest will take care of itself.

When you develop a thick skin you can finally view life through an unobstructed lens, and react to those around you accordingly. I hope my tips on how to get a thick skin have been helpful.

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Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.