7 steps to handle criticism at work well

This is how some people handle criticism
This is how some people handle criticism at work

A senior leader in a meeting told me that feedback is a gift. How can you ever improve if you donít know where you need to shore up your skills or work habits?

Thatís some of the best advice Iíve ever gotten and it has changed the way I think about negative feedback.

Now I use that line on my teenage daughters. Iím not so sure they think feedback is a giftÖ just yet :)

-†Julie P.

Many people get defensive or sad when they’re criticized at work. In many cases, the workplace has no†feedback culture†in place and people are not trained to give or receive criticism in a constructive manner. Giving and receiving negative feedback constructively takes a LOT of practice!

The best way to receive negative feedback well is to follow these 7 steps:

1: Listen.
Actually hear what’s being said.†If necessary, ask questions to make sure you understand the criticism fully.

Here’s an example:

I reiterate what she said so she knows that I was really listening and since my boss likes to teach and is very detail-oriented, Iíll ask her if she can give me a few tips on how to perform the task better and throw in a few suggestions as well to get her feedback.

I end the conversation by asking where Iím doing well so I can keep up the good work which is my way of helping her to remember where I excel.

This also shows her that out of everything that I do, sheís got few complaints and gives her the confidence to give me more responsibilities.

2: Assume good intentions
Unless proven otherwise, assume good intentions. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that the person criticising you is “out to get you.” Of course, sometimes they are. If so, see below.

3: Do not get defensive and start making excuses.
Instead you might say what you’ve learned and what you will do differently from now on.

4: Don’t take it personally
Remember that they’re criticizing your work, not you as a person. Never take negative feedback about your work as a criticism of you as a person.

5: See criticism as help
Remember that all constructive feedback (including negative feedback) is a sign of interest and a sign that people want to help you do better. It would be far worse for people to notice you doing bad work and not say a word.

6: Don’t be too hard on yourself
Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has things to learn. Yes, that includes you. There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes, but making the same mistakes over and over because you refuse to listen to criticism and learn is just stupid.

7: Say thank you
Thank the person for their feedback.

Never put up with attacks in the workplace

However, note that these steps only apply to constructive, well-meant criticism. Unfair and overly negative feedback is also used as a tool by bad managers and workplace bullies to demean and control others.

The wrong kind of criticism can be:

  • Overly negative
  • Personal attacks
  • Unfair criticism for something that is not your fault or outside if your control
  • Delivered in an unpleasant way

Do NOT put up with this kind of attack. If you do it will persist.

Feedback can be a gift

All constructive feedback is valuable because it gives you a chance to improve and learn. Positive feedback is easier and more fun (and sadly undervalued in most workplaces) but negative feedback and criticism can be a fantastic thing as long as we do it right.

In fact, many employees I’ve talked to simply wish for†more†feedback of any kind. They feel like they work in a vacuum where no one ever notices their efforts, good or bad, and this makes it almost impossible to know whether or not they’re doing good work.

We desperately need feedback – both positive and negative. Tell me what I do well AND tell me what I can do better.

Your take

Have you ever received negative feedback in a way that helped you out? How did you receive it? What are some BAD ways to receive criticism? Do you have a coworker who handles criticism particularly well or badly? How do they do it? Write a comment below – I’d love to hear your take.

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13 thoughts on “7 steps to handle criticism at work well”

  1. Should criticism be all about work feedback that should be given?
    in the situation I was in, I was trying to keep up with the workload where when I was busy I quietly do my work to complete my work,my remote boss has no issues on my work but somehow my immediate boss sees me as having an attitude problem. It really felt that if I speak or don’t speak I will still be branded someone with an attitude problem. To a point I told myself, less said better and I live by this, if you have nothing nice to say, better don’t say anything at all. So should this be about work only?

  2. I take criticism as a feedback from co-workers. I usually ask them details about it and how I can improve it. If I feel that they have a point, I discuss it with some one close to me whom I can trust. If they also feel the same way, I tries to improve myself. But its true that whenever we get any feedback or negative comments, the first is that we get frustrated inside.

  3. my problem is that the managers say to my face that Im doing a great job, they love the way I do things, etc. But then apparently they talked to my boss and told them something different. I got not details, only the things that my boss had to say about me. My boss is always abroad so he dont really spend much time around to see things for himself, and it hurt me when I heard this feedback last week. Why? cos Im always trying to do my best at work, I always have a good attitude and here I was receiving bad feedback. How do you deal with hypocrites? it’s not easy. And I gotta say after that talk, I lost some of the enthusiasm I had for my job in the past. It’s impossible not to take it personal, I dedicate hours of my day to my job and I put my heart into everything I do.

  4. I am really struggling with this right now. I am I. A busi was analyst role for the first time in a project that has been a nightmare. The developers can Be so demeaning and they don’t see it. My heart rate goes up every time I have to interact with them. The project manager understands. I try to handle it professionally and bite my tongue, but this week I blew up at them. While the project manager thought I was fine, and even defended me in the meeting, I don’t think I am making much progress with them. Right now I feel like giving my career up. It is starting to be all I think about. Any advice?

  5. Thanks for sharing your tips, since going down a total different career path recently I am struggle to familiarise myself with new approaches to business communication, particularly handling criticism. Even though I know criticism is given to develop and help me learn its still never easy to receive! I am really trying to identify how to handle this criticism better to benefit me and my development. I came across the following information recently which has really helped me reflect on where I am going wrong with using criticism to my advantage.

  6. This was very good. After 24 years with one company and 20 in management, my biggest lesson with this was starting a new job under a manager younger than me with probably a fraction of my experience in the field and managing. Seems like his criticism was geared to reduce me, break my spirit and minimize my over qualifications. He was not qualified nor had the skill set to manage a person of my caliber and I say that with humility. I believe he seen me as a threat…just not enough experience. he was 3 yrs old when I started my career…

  7. How should one deal with over the wall negative talk, where you do not have an opportunity to express from your perspective?

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