We’ve all been there. Your boss shares negative feedback during your performance review that seems to come out of left field. Or a co-worker delivers a withering critique of a presentation that you worked on for months. While criticism at work can be difficult to deal with, it can also be a gift. Without constructive feedback, it’s impossible to boost your performance and get better at your craft. Fortunately, the choice of how to handle negative input is yours. Here are five healthy ways to deal with criticism at work that will help take your career to the next level.
1. Be open
The first step in benefiting from criticism at work is to be open to it. Actively listen to what is being said and take time to absorb the information. Don’t jump to the conclusion that the person delivering the critique is out to get you. Instead, assume that they are honest and have good intentions. Even if the feedback isn’t tactful, that doesn’t mean it’s meant to be hurtful. Restate the feedback to confirm you are both on the same page. This gives you more time to process it and ensure you understood it correctly. Acknowledge the input and thank them for providing it.
2. Consider your body language
Be aware of your body language. Make sure to uncross your arms and make eye contact. Slow your breathing to reduce your stress level and give your emotions a chance to settle down before you respond. Try to keep your body language open, and your shoulders relaxed. Dealing with criticism at work can be challenging, and open body language will make you feel less defensive.
3. Ask clarifying questions
Once you both understand the feedback, ask clarifying questions. Do you agree with the input, or is it a complete surprise to you? Remember that this is a two-way conversation, and it is up to you to take control of the discussion.
Some possible questions could be:
- What is the context?
- Could you walk me through an example?
- What do you suggest I do differently moving forward to address this?
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4. Schedule a follow-up
Planning a follow-up conversation will demonstrate to your boss that you listened, and you’re serious about improving your performance. Develop action steps to address the issue strategically and share them in this meeting. This is a great opportunity to develop additional rapport with your manager and make them feel like a partner in the process. It is also an excellent forum in which to offer a rational counterargument if there were elements of the feedback you disagreed with. By stating your case without anger or defensiveness, it will help them understand your point of view.
5. Share the feedback
Find a mentor, colleague, or advisor and share the feedback with them. This approach is a good way to get a different perspective from someone whose opinion you trust. Ask them if they feel that the input is accurate. You can also use this opportunity to confirm that you’re not being too hard on yourself.
It’s healthy to nurture a culture of feedback in the workplace. If you’re especially sensitive to receiving criticism, you may want to determine why. It may just be a matter of adjusting your inner dialogue to combat a lack of self-confidence or perceived inadequacies. You should also consider the source of the comments. Is it someone whose opinion you respect? Are they interested in helping you develop, or merely putting you down? Either way, you’ll want to remain calm, focus on the facts, and move on. Criticism at work can be a blessing in disguise. Use it to help you improve, and it can be your best friend.
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When you’re in a leadership position, you will always have critics. If three-quarters of the team supports you, but the rest thinks your vision is problematic, focusing on the naysayers can stress you out and lead you in the wrong direction. So it is important to practice your responses. First, don’t jump to conclusions if someone seems distracted or upset; simply ask them what they are thinking. If they express concern, evaluate the degree of their disapproval. See if their reaction is a symptom of a larger problem or a single issue. Apply the criticism to your role, not yourself. Ask your personal board of directors for advice and support. And, finally, make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically and mentally. You won’t ever be universally beloved, but developing a stomach for criticism is crucial to your success.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to run an organization. I was excited about the possibilities ahead of us and the goals we could realize. However, instead of receiving unanimous enthusiasm for what I thought was an exciting vision, some team members found fault with my ideas and judged me personally. They said my agenda was too ambitious and self-serving. Some thought I wasn’t listening to what my constituents wanted.
Even though three-quarters of the team supported my vision, I fixated on the quarter that did not. I knew I was generally well-liked because I spent a large portion of my time and energy on pleasing others. The thought that some people didn’t like me felt like a punch in the gut. I lost sleep, couldn’t concentrate, and lost five pounds in one week (not how I wanted to lose those pounds). I started to consider how I could give in to what the naysayers wanted, even though it wasn’t the right thing for the organization.
Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I figured out how to be resilient when being criticized. This enabled me to stand my ground and take actions that benefited the organization, not just my self-worth. Here are the lessons I learned from that experience:
Be prepared; don’t freeze. Criticism is inevitable, especially if we invite diverse perspectives and boldly lay out a big vision. Unfortunately, our response to the disapproval of others may not be entirely within our control. Feeling “attacked” may trigger an involuntary fight-flight-or-freeze response in the amygdala. We may capitulate, cry, or lash out — actions we’ll probably regret later. We’ll probably also think of the perfect response but only after the fact. Instead of being caught off guard, prepare a list of three to five ways to respond to critics in the moment. Have these responses handy on your phone or a sticky note in case your brain draws a blank. For example, you might paraphrase what you heard to ensure you correctly understood what was said and demonstrate to the other person that you’re listening. Or you could say something like, “This is a new perspective. I appreciate your willingness to share a different point of view. I’d like to give this genuine consideration and get back to you.”
Calibrate; don’t catastrophize. If it’s very important to you that people like you and your ideas, you may be particularly sensitive to any form of censure. But try to keep things in perspective. For example, in a meeting, small gestures from the team such as throat clearing or focusing on a phone during your presentation may be the result of an allergy or distraction not negativity toward your ideas. Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask what’s going on. You might say, “I notice you’re frowning. Is it related to what we’ve been discussing?” If the person expresses a concern, make sure you understand the degree of intensity, importance, or urgency of their disapproval. You might say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how frustrated are you about this?” or “How important is this to you?”
Accumulate; don’t react. If it’s the first time you’ve heard a certain judgment, become curious about the broader picture. Are you hearing this because this person is the canary in the proverbial coal mine and is the first to say something? Or is this a single instance, best set aside until you hear similar comments from others?
Apply the criticism to your role, not yourself. We often mistake our role for ourselves. We take things personally that are not personal at all; they are a condition of the job we’re in. For example, the head of sales might find fault with the head of products — no matter who occupies that position. Instead of conflating yourself and your role, determine whether the criticism is about you or the issues and tensions your role naturally evokes.
Connect with your personal board of directors; don’t isolate yourself. When we’re reeling from criticism, we tend to withdraw from others. Instead, reach out. Cultivate a diverse group of six to 12 people who are invested in your success and who will tell you the truth. Contact the members of this personal board of directors, share how the negative comments affected you, and seek their perspective and advice.
Take care of yourself; don’t try to push through. If your colleagues’ comments are particularly painful, it might take a psychological and physiological toll. You may find it hard to sleep or eat well. During these times, carve out more time for yourself. Identify two to three small rituals or practices that help renew your energy. It’s important that these actions are fairly simple so that you actually do them. Some examples might be taking a three-minute walk outdoors to get some fresh air, connecting with a friend on your drive home, journaling for five minutes at night, or waking up each morning and thinking about one person you’re grateful for in your life. (Bonus points if you then send that person a note expressing your gratitude.)
After many long walks, I realized that even though I’d spent most of my life trying to be likeable, it was an illusion to believe that I would be universally beloved. To move forward as a successful executive, I had to develop a stomach for criticism — even if it meant a bruised ego. In the end, I talked to the people in my organization and acknowledged their various opinions. Then I clearly stated what the plan would be going forward and told the group that I hoped they would join me in working wholeheartedly toward the goals I had presented. Most of them did. Over time, I increased my resilience by following the steps above. I’ve learned to face the realities and benefits of diverse opinions and to value the parts of myself that others may criticize.
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I’ve always envied people who can graciously accept constructive criticism.
It seems I was not born with that trait, and throughout my career I’ve struggled with receiving feedback, even when it was entirely accurate. The moment I hear the words, my heartbeat quickens and my mind begins to race—first in search of an explanation for the assault on my person and then for a retort to rationalize whatever actions are in question.
And I’m not alone.
Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, many of us react with defensiveness and anger or—even worse—attack the person giving feedback. But the truth is, we need to get over it. We know there’s value in constructive criticism—how else would we identify weaknesses only help us maintain relationships and be more successful in everything we do.
So how do you learn to back off the defensive? The next time you receive constructive criticism from your manager or a peer, use this six-step process to handle the encounter with tact and grace.
1. Stop Your First Reaction
At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You’ll have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm.
2. Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback
Now, you have a few seconds to quickly remind yourself of the benefits of receiving constructive criticism—namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships, and to help you meet the expectations that your manager and others have of you.
You should also try to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person who is delivering the feedback. It can be challenging to receive criticism from a co-worker, a peer, or someone that you don’t fully respect, but, remember: Accurate and constructive feedback comes even from flawed sources.
3. Listen for Understanding
You’ve avoided your typical reaction, your brain is working, and you’ve recalled all the benefits of feedback—high-five! Now, you’re ready to engage in a productive dialogue as your competent, thoughtful self (as opposed to your combative, Mean Girls self).
As the person shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share their complete thoughts, without interruption. When they’re done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?”
At this point, avoid analyzing or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding his or her comments and perspective. And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express their ideas perfectly.
4. Say Thank You
Next (and this is a hard part, I know), look the person in the eyes and thank them for sharing feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this—be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.”
Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts.
5. Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
Now it’s time to process the feedback—you’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. Avoid engaging in a debate; instead, ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them.
For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:
Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You’re right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
Look for concrete solutions to address the feedback: “I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”
6. Request Time to Follow Up
Hopefully, by this point in the conversation, you can agree on the issues that were raised. Once you articulate what you will do going forward, and thank the person again for the feedback, you can close the conversation and move on.
That said, if it’s a larger issue, or something presented by your boss, you may want to ask for a follow-up meeting to ask more questions and get agreement on next steps. And that’s OK—it’ll give you time to process the feedback, seek advice from others, and think about solutions.
Constructive criticism is often the only way we learn about our weaknesses—without it we can’t improve. When we’re defensive, instead of accepting and gracious, we run the risk of missing out on this important insight. Remember, feedback’s not easy to give and it’s certainly not easy to receive, but it’ll help us now and in the long run.
Constructive criticism helps employees improve the quality of their work, identifying solutions to areas they may be weak along with praise for what they're doing well. While it can be difficult to accept criticism, being able to do so can help you grow professionally and become better in your role. Learning how to gracefully accept criticism can help you maintain or strengthen your relationships and be more successful in everything you do.
In this article, we discuss why it's so important to accept criticism and the steps you can take to accept criticism gracefully.
Why is it important to accept criticism?
While criticism, even when it's constructive, can be difficult to hear, being able to accept criticism is important because it:
- Helps you improve your skills while reducing the likelihood of errors and increasing your efficiency
- Enables you to learn skills new quickly and effectively
- Shows you that managers and peers care about the quality of your work and want to see you succeed
How to gracefully accept criticism
Use the following steps to more gracefully accept criticism from managers, mentors and peers:
1. Pause before reacting
When you're given criticism, the first thing you should do is pause in order to give yourself a moment to process what you're being told. By pausing for a brief moment, you can stay calm and remain cognizant of your facial expressions.
2. Keep an open mind
Remember that the person who's offering you criticism sees a problem with your work and genuinely wants to help you improve. Try to have an open mind about what they're telling you in order to truly hear what they're telling you. Do your best to see the situation from the other person's point of view. It can help you recognize the validity of their concerns.
You should also try to keep in mind that constructive and accurate feedback can come from anyone. This is important to remember when you're receiving constructive criticism from a peer, co-worker or even someone you don't completely respect. Great feedback can come from even flawed sources.
3. Listen to understand
Listen closely to the criticism without interrupting and when the other person finishes speaking, repeat back when you heard them say. This will reassure them that you understood the feedback or give them an opportunity to address any misunderstandings. Sometimes when people deliver criticism, they are nervous, which means that what they're telling you may not be expressed perfectly and succinctly. Repeating what they said could help resolve any miscommunications.
4. Express appreciation
After confirming that you fully understand the feedback you're being given, the next step you should take is to express appreciation by saying thank you. Showing your appreciation means you're acknowledging the effort it took the co-worker or manager to evaluate your performance, identify solutions and share their thoughts. Telling them that you're appreciative doesn't necessarily mean you have to agree with the assessment.
5. Ask questions
The next step you should take is to ask questions to better understand the issue and, if necessary, find solutions for improving upon the weakness or to resolve the issue. Depending on the circumstances, you could ask that the colleague for examples of what they're referring to, ask whether they think the issue is an isolated incident or even ask if they have solutions for how the situation could be handled differently in the future.
6. Close the issue or ask to follow up later
After you identify a solution and acknowledge what you're going to do differently in the future, you can thank them again for bringing it to your attention and close the issue. If it's a larger issue or something that was brought to your attention by your manager, you should suggest meeting again in one or two weeks to follow up and evaluate your performance.
If you haven't yet identified solutions and need more time to process the criticism your manager gave you, you could also ask to follow up with them at a later time to discuss and ask questions. If this is the case, you can simply let them know that you appreciate hearing their concerns and that you would like to take some time to gather your thoughts so you can respond. This gives you time to calm your mind and process your response.
Tips for embracing criticism
Here are some additional suggestions for how you can embrace criticism in the workplace:
Reframe how you take feedback
Remind yourself that the best opportunities for professional growth often come in the form of feedback. Start thinking about feedback as an opportunity to get better and evolve professionally.
Remember it's not about you
Remember that the person giving you criticism isn't criticizing who you are as a person, they're offering criticism about a specific action or task. If you find the criticism troubling, schedule a time to follow up via in-person meeting, phone call or even via email. Be polite and direct in the meeting when you discuss their feedback and look at it as an opportunity to grow.
Compare facts with assertions
Even though you're being offered constructive criticism, you cannot be sure that when the person is saying is accurate. After you hear them out, take time on your own to compare facts with the statements that were made and come up with your own objective analysis.
Sometimes it can be difficult to accept criticism or view it objectively, especially if you feel your emotions taking over. If this happens, resolve to revisit the criticism in the near future when you're feeling calm and distract yourself by doing something you enjoy, something that makes you feel good. This could mean going for a walk or calling a friend who can make you laugh.
Lower your defenses. Defensiveness will only cloud your judgment, making it more difficult for you to identify the defining characteristics of your colleague’s criticism. Remember that their criticism isn’t a personal attack. See their comments merely as their own observations and assume that they’re coming from a good place.
You might feel defensive at first, but remind yourself it’s not personal. Be willing to see things from their perspective.
Take some time to process the criticism. It is natural to have an emotional reaction to judgment, even if that judgment comes in the form of constructive criticism. Therefore, in order to accept criticism and handle it effectively, you should give yourself some time to reflect on what was said. Take the opportunity as a chance for growth.
Don’t feel pressured to respond right away. Say, “Thank you” and walk away.
Stay calm. Whether you’re speaking or listening to their critique, try to stay calm. Even if you feel defensive, using a calm state of mind can help you from saying something that could potentially backfire or hurt you in the future. Staying calm helps you listen and produce a logical response instead of an emotional response.
Before you react, take a few deep breaths to lower your heart rate and feel more centered.
Acknowledge that you understood them. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the criticism, letting the speaker know that you received the message lays the groundwork for resolution and, ultimately, accepting criticism. It removes the power from the speaker and makes you accountable for handling the criticism in your own way.
Say, “I hear what you’re saying. You’d like me to complete tasks on deadline.”
I think most people can agree that being criticized is rarely a barrel of fun. Whether the comments come from your boss, your peer or even your employee, they can inflict discomfort. The trick to turning criticism into something useful is to find the core nugget of truth embedded in the message, and then using it to improve your performance and grow from the experience.
No matter what the intention of the person delivering the news (good, bad or indifferent), there might still be something in the message that is useful once you’ve distanced yourself from your initial emotional response.
Throughout my time as a leadership coach, I’ve learned there are a few ways you can make the experience more valuable:
Remember, criticism is not an attack.
Unless you have a thick skin or a lot of practice hearing direct feedback, the first step to taking criticism is probably the most challenging. Your initial reaction might to fight back because of the confrontation or to flee the scene — don’t do either. In a professional situation, neither reaction is going to win you any points. Practice quashing that automatic response by thinking of a phrase or two that will buy you a few seconds to settle down.
Having a stock comment in your pocket, such as, “That’s an interesting viewpoint,” or, “I’ve never thought of it that way,” can lessen the initial emotional impact, especially if the comment came out of the blue and caught you by surprise.
Ask for clarification.
The feedback might be poorly worded or poorly presented. For example, the person delivering it might be using over-generalizations such as, “You always,” “You never,” “I hate it when you,” etc. The feedback might also be too vague to be useful.
This is why it’s critical to be objective and get to the heart of what the other person is trying to convey. Questions along the lines of, “Can you give me a specific example of what you’re talking about?” will help to narrow the focus.
According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report (registration required), “Currently, most managers are not providing the type of feedback necessary to drive better performance. Only 23% of employees strongly agree their manager provides meaningful feedback to them.” So, if you want to get the most value out of the feedback you do get, help the messenger deliver useful information by asking detailed questions.
While you’re asking specific questions, really listen to the answers. Disassociate yourself emotionally, and don’t react. Think of this as a fact-finding mission. When you have enough information, summarize and reiterate what you’ve been told. Make sure you’re both on the same page. It also wouldn’t hurt to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Your boss or peer might be just as uncomfortable bringing up the subject as you are hearing about it.
The criticism should not be about you, so don’t make it about you. It should pertain to your role, the execution of your duties or your job performance. The minute you make it personal, it becomes a confrontation of who’s right and who’s wrong, which doesn’t accomplish anything. It can even be about your behavior, but remember: That still doesn’t make it about you.
Stick with the facts.
If the feedback contains several irrelevant details, let them slide. They aren’t pertinent. If necessary, it’s OK to politely point this out to the person giving the feedback. The goal is to get both of you to agree what the factual, germane point of the criticism is. Stay on topic. Don’t let the discussion slide off into a litany of grievances.
Avoid making excuses.
This is not the proper time or place to try to shift the blame or rationalize your behavior. This is a very good time to simply say, “Thank you for your feedback.” You need time to give the subject matter some thought.
Tell the person you appreciate their time and that, in turn, you’ll need time to think about what they’ve said. If you continue to try to sidestep or justify, you’ll only succeed in looking weak — not the impression you want to leave management or anyone with.
Follow up with the messenger.
Once you’ve had time to think through the feedback and understand how it’s relevant in relation to your professional growth, make an effort to follow up. Ask for a few minutes of time from the person who offered the comment in the first place. Explain that you’ve been thinking about the issue, and share any revelations that have come to light as to how you could improve.
It also wouldn’t hurt to ask for input or any advice this person might have for you in this regard. Perhaps, they’ve been through the same situation and are only trying to share their experience to save you the time and effort it took for them to improve. In fact, this could be the start of a beneficial mentoring relationship.
Remember that criticism is only a tool meant to help you grow. There’s no need to criticize the things you already do well. According to a 2018 study by Randstad, 69% of those surveyed said they would have a greater sense of satisfaction if employers “better utilized their skills and abilities.” Constructive criticism is a way to hone those skills and abilities.
Feedback can be a valuable learning opportunity. When it’s given and taken in a responsible and professional manner, everyone benefits.
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Providing constructive criticism can improve an employee’s attitude, motivation, and performance and mitigate performance issues before they spiral out of control. But that doesn’t make it an easy task — particularly when you’re offering feedback to a peer, rather than a direct report.
You don’t want to speak out of turn, offend and demotivate your colleague, or get into an argument. Here are seven tips for getting it right.
1. Be Objective
Providing constructive criticism to a colleague should never be driven by a personal vendetta. It’s not appropriate to single someone out or pass judgment simply because you don’t particularly like them or struggle to see eye-to-eye. Question your motives and think before you speak to ensure you’re being fair and objective — and try your best to leave your emotions at the door.
2. Acquire Relevant Information
You might have concerns about a co-worker’s work ethic, performance, or decision-making process, but don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about their conduct or circumstances.
Start by having an open conversation with them, and any other colleagues involved, to determine why they might be underperforming and what challenges they’re facing. If there are external or personal factors preventing them from doing their job properly, you’ll need to proceed carefully and with empathy. The more information you have, the easier it will be to resolve the situation appropriately and efficiently.
3. Plan Ahead
Once you’ve decided to provide your colleague with some constructive criticism, take the time to figure out exactly what you want and need to say.
When it comes to having difficult conversations, it can be tempting to try and soften the blow by skirting around the subject. But your colleague will appreciate direct, succinct, and actionable communication — something which is hard to achieve without a little forward planning. Write down the key points you wish to make and think about how best to articulate them with clear takeaways to avoid delivering a garbled and incoherent message.
4. Offer Praise
Constructive criticism is important — helping people to improve their workplace performance by refining their output or developing new skills. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to throw in a bit of affirmation on the side. In many cases, positive feedback is just as important as the negative kind.
When providing feedback, let your colleague know what they’re doing right, alongside any constructive criticism you have to offer, to avoid them feeling demotivated or discouraged.
5. Don’t Be a Manager
While it’s perfectly reasonable to provide your colleagues with constructive criticism, it’s important to avoid straying into managerial territory. It’s a manager’s role to provide ongoing and generalist feedback, conduct formal performance reviews, set stretch assignments, and address and resolve workplace tensions.
If you are giving feedback to a colleague of equal seniority, avoid being patronizing, engaging in an overly formal manner, giving outright instructions, and getting involved in things that don’t directly involve you or impact your ability to do your job. If your colleague is reluctant to accept your advice and you’re facing a situation that requires an urgent resolution, speak to your manager instead of taking matters into your own hands.
6. Ask for Feedback in Return
It’s possible to foster a workplace environment where providing and receiving constructive criticism is the norm. You could set aside a weekly or monthly meeting with an individual colleague, or your entire team, where everyone exchanges feedback and offers advice.
This kind of peer review session can help employees grow more comfortable with receiving criticism while driving a collaborative workplace culture in which everyone strives to do their best.
Even if you choose not to formalize these feedback sessions, you can still make a conscious effort to normalize the process of giving constructive criticism by requesting input and comments from your colleagues. They’ll feel much more comfortable accepting your comments if you’ve shown a willingness to take on theirs.
7. Get Your Timing Right
You might never find the perfect moment to offer constructive criticism, but there are times when you should definitely hold off.
Don’t corner someone at 6 pm on a Friday just before they clock off for the day. If your team has just endured a difficult meeting or you know your colleague is currently swamped with a huge workload, it’s probably best to save your feedback for another time. They’ll likely be much more receptive and willing to engage with you when they’re not preoccupied or stressed with other workplace challenges.
Constructive or not, criticism can be tough to accept.
How can you take constructive criticism effectively without taking criticism personally?
To answer this question, we gathered a group of leaders and business professionals to seek their perspectives. We asked the leaders for their tips on what they value in employees who accept criticism. The business professionals were asked for their advice on accepting criticism.
Here are 12 tips on how to take criticism at work.
Keep in Mind Your Boss or Client’s Intentions
When receiving constructive criticism, it is important to remember that your boss or your client is simply trying to make the final product more on-brand. Their feedback is not about your ability or execution of the project, so don’t let their comments affect your confidence.
Separate Yourself From Your Work
The easiest way to take constructive criticism is to separate yourself from your work. Oftentimes, people are personally hurt when their work isn’t appreciated because they think their work is a reflection of them. When designing or creating something for another business, it is important to note that their feedback is simply trying to get the final product to reflect the brand more than yourself.
“Coaches Only Yell if They Care”
I have played sports my entire life. A quote that has stayed with me during my years on and off the court is “Coaches only yell if they care.” While I don’t have a manager or director that actually yells at me, I do often get constructive criticism from them and they let me know when I am not performing to the best of my abilities. I don’t take it personally, because I know they only point out areas of improvement because they truly care about how I do at my job! Coaches hardly yell at the players on the bench not contributing anything to the game, so if your superiors are taking the time to express constructive criticism, take it as a sign that you are an important part of the team.
Remember What Hat You’re Wearing
In any professional position, you have to compartmentalize at times. When I go to work, I have to put on my “work hat” I leave my other hats at home and focus on the responsibilities for the day ahead. When I receive constructive criticism about my work, I have to remember what hat I am wearing and only apply the criticism to my work performance. This does not mean I am a bad person or bad friend, it simply means I can do better at the job I was hired to do. When I go home and the work hat comes off, I don’t let it bother me or affect me personally.
Accept Your Blind Spots
Think about driving an RV on a busy freeway, and wanting to merge into the next lane. You might get honked at, which can sound startling, but is a form of constructive feedback. A nearby driver may be altering you to an object in a blind spot or could be sharing that you’re going too far. Much like a honk from a car, feedback in the workplace can sound alarming. Seek to understand where and why the honk is occurring in the first place, take things slowly, and rely on the people around you to help satisfy your blind spots.
View It as a Set of Instructions
Constructive criticism should be strictly seen as a set of instructions meant to hone in your talents rather than as a weapon that cripples your goals and aspirations. Always remember that constructive criticism is offered to boost your effectiveness and not the other way around.
Let It Fuel Your Job Hunting Efforts
Taking constructive criticism is part of the recruitment process. Unfortunately, there are too many instances when candidates don’t hear anything back from recruiters at all. So, if you are fortunate enough to receive feedback, you should use that criticism to fuel your future job hunting efforts. Almost always, criticism isn’t personal so as soon as you shake that from your thinking, it will serve you well moving forward.
Remember They Are Giving You A Choice
When someone gives you feedback, even “constructive criticism” realizes they are simply giving you a choice. You can ignore their input or take it to heart and work to improve. If it’s a one-off comment you can opt to toss it, but if it’s a theme you’ve heard before, it’s time to listen. Your move? Accepted it like an ugly Christmas gift. Smile, thank him or her and be grateful you were thought of.
Reframing the way we think about feedback is the first step in accepting it. If we think of feedback as criticism instead of a gift, we are approaching it from a negative instead of a positive standpoint. Think to yourself, what is the intent of the feedback? What do I take away from this feedback that will propel me forward towards my goals? Marshall Goldsmith wrote about what he calls “Feedforward” instead of feedback. Goldsmith says we should focus on what we can change going forward instead of looking back. Reframing how you see and receive feedback is the first step in taking actionable steps forward.
Share the Style of Feedback You Find Most Helpful
It can be difficult to take the most constructive and neutral critical feedback effectively when you’re feeling insecure about something you’re working on or not feeling resilient! When I feel dismayed about some feedback that I’ve received and am not feeling confident about my work, I try to imagine how I would give the feedback in that person’s shoes — in many cases, I may phrase something differently but would likely have the same intention at heart! If someone’s feedback is consistently affecting your confidence, however, it’s worth talking to them about the process and explaining what styles of feedback you would find more helpful, perhaps with a third party of a colleague/HR person if you’re feeling uncomfortable about it.
Let Constructive Criticism Reinforce Your Goals
We are human so it’s understandable that constructive criticism can sting. However, put it in the context of what your goals are. How does what you are hearing impact what you believe your success looks like? Constructive criticism is meant to help you reinforce your work and continue to build rather like how you’d want to reinforce the foundation of your home if you were looking to expand it.
Clarifying Questions and Trust Listening
Receiving constructive criticism without taking criticism personally is a valuable skillset that requires the following: listening, clarifying questions, and trust listening. These are key to receiving the presented information fully and without defense. Clarifying questions will allow the receiver to understand the information and to make the information task-focused rather than personal. Without trust that constructive criticism is an attempt to improve, the message is lost.
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“People seldom refuse help, if one offers it in the right way.” – A. C. Benson.
Have you ever given suggestions that were subsequently ignored?
Have you ever given critiques that were not well received?
Have you ever wanted to give constructive criticism on something, but held back from doing so because you did not know how to convey your ideas across?
How to Give Constructive Criticism in 6 Steps
Today’s guide is on how to give constructive criticism to someone. Whether at work or in relationships, sharing and receiving feedback is part and parcel of improvement. If you have ideas on how someone can improve, don’t hold your ideas back — rather, share your criticism constructively.
Of course, to be sensitive to others’ feelings and offer feedback when you feel the other person is ready to take it. Otherwise, you may come across as imposing your views on others, especially if you repeatedly tell others what to do without them asking for your opinion.
1. Use the Feedback Sandwich
The feedback sandwich method is a popular method of giving constructive criticism. It is often used in Toastmasters and in the corporate environment. I refer to the feedback sandwich as PIP, which stands for Positive-Improvement-Positive. I know there are people who use PIP to represent Praise-Improve-Praise which is different from my version of PIP. Read on.
With Positive-Improve-Positive, your feedback is broken down into 3 segments:
- You start off by focusing on the strengths — what you like about the item in question.
- Then, you provide the criticism — things you don’t like, the areas of improvement.
- Lastly, you round off the feedback with (a) a reiteration of the positive comments you gave at the start and (b) the positive results that can be expected if the criticism is acted upon.
It’s called the “feedback sandwich” because you wedge your criticism between an opening and an ending — like a patty wedged between two buns.
Here’s an example: you want to critique someone on their website. Here’s how PIP can be used:
- First layer, “P” for Positive, where you talk about what you like:
- “Great website! I love the overall layout and how user-friendly it is. The overall design is nice and pleasing to the eye, and consistent with your brand. The menu is very accessible and makes it easy to access your site sections. I found the intro video helpful in giving me an overview of what you do.”
- Second layer, “I” for Improve, where you talk about the areas of improvement:
- “However, I thought that there are two things that can be better. Firstly, there is a lot of content in the sidebar that clutters up the usage experience. Perhaps if the sidebar content can be narrowed down to the key things, it would make it easier to navigate. Secondly, the font size is too small for me. I found it hard to read as I had to keep squinting.”
- Last layer, “P” for Positive, where you reiterate the positive points and the positive results to be expected when the improvement areas are worked on:
- “Overall, great work. I love what you’ve done with the design, layout, and intro video. I think if the sidebar clutter can be removed and the font size can be increased, it’d really create a fantastic usage experience for any visitor.”
The feedback sandwich is a good framework for providing constructive criticism because by starting off with the positive comments (the first “P”), you let the receiver know that you are on his/her side and you are not there to attack him/her. You are also recognizing things that the receiver is doing right, rather than only talking about the issue areas which can come across as being rude — especially if both of you don’t really know each other to begin with. The receiver then becomes more receptive to your critique (the “I” in PIP).
After sharing the things you don’t like or feel can be improved, round off the criticism with more positive points (the last “P”). This helps your critique end off on a high note, rather than leaving the recipient with a sour taste in his/her mouth. It also reminds him/her what he/she is doing right and reinforces the benefits of acting on your critique.
The feedback sandwich method is most appropriate when you are giving criticism to people you don’t know or don’t know well. Otherwise you may come across as very aggressive and rude if you just jump right into the critique. This is especially true in the Asian culture. Over time though, you can go right into the critique if you have established a rapport with the recipient and he/she is familiar with the way you think.
Some people may dislike using the feedback sandwich as they think it’s silly to praise for the sake of it. But the point of the feedback sandwich isn’t to give false praise or to butter people up. People are often quick to criticize, judge, or even shame, and it downplays what others are doing well and the effort they have put into their work. I see the feedback sandwich as a great way to (a) practice emotional generosity, because we sure can work on being more generous in supporting people’s hard work, (b) help the person learn what he/she is doing well, and (c) use this as the foundation to share what can be improved on.
Getting negative feedback from your boss or colleagues can be an uncomfortable experience. Nobody likes a bad review! That said, learning how to accept criticism at work is a crucial part of our career development. Here’s how to do it like a pro:
Our first instinct when we’re being criticised is usually to go on the defensive, clam up or even shut down altogether. However it’s important to think of the experience as an opportunity, not an attack. Instead of reacting from emotion, listen and really listen to what is being said. Try not to jump to any conclusions about your overall performance. The purpose of feedback is to help you grow and improve, not to insult you. So endeavour to accept the feedback graciously, you’re colleagues and boss will respect you for it.
If you weren’t expecting bad press, it can be hard to process initially. That’s why it’s a good idea to take notes which you can revisit later from a new (and probably calmer) perspective. Before you leave the meeting, summarise what’s been discussed to make sure you’re not misunderstanding any of the points made.
While it’s important to listen, it shouldn’t be a one-way street. If a colleague is making observations about your work feel free to ask for further explanation where appropriate. After all, to take on board their recommendations, it’s crucial that you fully understand them. Having an open and honest discussion is the healthiest way to handle any criticism. Admit any shortcomings but call out any criticism you feel is unjustified too. Just watch your tone and language, you don’t want to appear defensive. Some useful phrases here would be
“Just to clarify, you feel that…?”
“Can I just confirm that you think to improve on X we should do Y?”
“To help me understand, could you offer an example?”
If you’ve just been hit with some tough love, showing your gratitude might feel like the last thing you want to do but being able to recognise the good intention behind the criticism is an admirable trait. Remember, the whole point of feedback is to help you improve and excel in your role. Take on board everything that’s been said and then put it into practice. Learn from the experience.