How to Handle Criticism at Work

Have you ever heard someone say, “I welcome constructive criticism” and wondered how on earth they can feel that way? It seems a little unnatural that anyone would enjoy hearing someone tell them what they are doing wrong, or what they can do better. Humans naturally want to be lifted up and praised for their accomplishments, but everyone has to deal with criticism at one point or another and it’s an important part of career development. If you’re not the person who “welcomes” constructive criticism and you need a few helpful hints, we’ve got you covered.

Your Mindset and Listening

Assuming that the constructive criticism is coming at a scheduled time, such as a performance review or planned discussion, the first step to handling criticism well is going into the situation with a good mindset. Keep an open mind, try not to be defensive, and assume the person has good intentions and is not trying to hurt your feelings. This mindset will help you to be able to listen to what the person is saying, rather than racking your brain for excuses or arguments on how they are wrong. A helpful tactic is to repeat back to them what you believe they are saying to make sure the two of you are on the same page: “What I hear you saying is that I need to work on [blank]?” This way if you have misunderstood what they are trying to tell you, there is immediate clarification.

Have Empathy

It is easy to feel like the person criticizing you is being aggressive or unfair. Having empathy for the person and understanding that they may feel like they are being gentle or respectful when you don’t necessarily feel that way is important to keep the experience positive. Realizing that giving someone criticism is sometimes just as uncomfortable as receiving it will help you feel more empathetic and less attacked.

Don’t Take it Personally

Typically, your supervisor, or whoever is giving you constructive criticism, will not be attacking your character. If they are taking the time to speak with you candidly, then chances are they believe that you can do a better job or fix the issue. If you view criticism as help, it will be easier to appreciate it rather than let it offend you. If you find yourself feeling hurt, try to stop your gut reaction and respond calmly. After taking time to digest what the person criticized, you will probably be glad that you did not respond with your immediate feelings.

Always Say Thank You

No matter what the feedback is or how you feel about it, you should thank the person for taking the time to discuss the issue with you. This is the mature and appropriate response to receiving constructive criticism. The last thing you want is to be known as the person who cannot accept a critique at work because that makes you seem difficult to work with.

Doubting the Criticism

If you doubt the criticism you received, instead of rejecting it during the conversation, find a coworker who you trust and ask them if they agree with the assessment. This way you can know whether you just can’t see the issue in yourself, or if the criticism was unfair or incorrect. If you feel the need to clarify the issue directly to the critic, ask them to provide examples of the thing they are criticizing. If they cannot give examples of the issue, then there may not really be one.

Request Time to Follow Up

Receiving criticism means there is something that you need to work on. Both you and the person who gave you the criticism should want to plan time to follow up on your progress and improvement. Having this conversation can let you know whether you are on the right track or if you need to do anything different. Also, after putting time and effort into making changes, you will not want your hard work to go unnoticed.

Handling constructive criticism is a part of life, especially at work. It is best to prepare yourself to deal with it in a mature and productive way. Maybe, using these tips, you can even become someone who welcomes constructive criticism.