How to: Take criticism at work

Criticism is never an easy thing to hear…

Whether it’s coming from a colleague, manager, client, or during an appraisal, receiving criticism from someone at work can be tough to take. But whilst your immediate reaction might be to express anger, disappointment, or defensiveness – none of these things will allow you to actually learn and improve.

So to help you take negative feedback gracefully, here’s our guide to how to take criticism at work:


Think before you react

Although knee-jerk reactions may work in some situations, this probably isn’t one of them.

In fact, if you allow yourself to react before you have time to process what’s been said – something as simple as a disappointed facial expression, defensive remark, or ‘subtle’ eye roll could ruin the conversation before it’s even started.

Instead, take a second to stop your immediate reaction and remind yourself to stay calm.

That way, you’ll minimise distractions and make yourself available to listen to and understand feedback – whilst maintaining a good level of professionalism.


Understand its purpose

Receiving criticism can be tough; but it’s not for nothing.

As long as it’s given fairly and constructively, getting feedback on your performance is essential to your self-development. Not only does it allow you to understand your flaws, it also helps to pinpoint potential areas for improvement.

And let’s face it, you’d rather that than have your colleagues and managers turn a blind eye as you churn out mediocre work.

So instead of assuming criticism’s sole purpose is to make you feel bad, remember: it’s for your own good. You just have to use it to your advantage.


Don’t take it personally

When you’re being critiqued, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important.

Whether it’s that you focus on who’s delivering it, you’re caught up in the tone of the conversation, or you’re simply taking every word to heart – there are a variety of factors that could distract you from the key message.

But no matter what, it’s vital that you take feedback on in the context it’s given. This means taking some time to focus on what’s being said, rather than who’s saying it or why.

So, be objective – it might actually make your work better.


Have the right attitude

Let’s face it, you’ll never be able to put criticism to good use if you’ve got a bad attitude.

So to make sure you’re taking it in the right way – show that not only are you grateful for the feedback, you’re also eager to use it to improve. After all, opportunities to get better at your job are always something you should take (especially if you’re looking for a promotion).

Additionally, always be open minded with the feedback you’re given. You might think that your way of doing things is the only way, but newsflash – that isn’t always the case.


Ask questions

You may not agree with every part of the criticism you receive; and that’s OK. As long as you handle it professionally.

In other words, you shouldn’t react by telling them they’re wrong and/or flailing your arms about in a rage. But you should ask questions.

For example, asking for specific times when your colleague/manager saw these actions is a great way to pinpoint exactly where you’re going wrong. After all, you might not agree there’s a problem until it’s explained in more detail.

And, with more information, you’ll be able to share your perspective, understand whether it’s an isolated issue, and seek specific solutions.


Say thank you

OK, we know what you’re thinking; ‘why should I thank someone for pointing out my flaws?’

Well, not only can it be just as difficult to share criticism as it is to hear it, the person giving it to you is also only doing it for your benefit. They could just as easily brush it off and move on, but they’d rather take the time to help you improve.

That isn’t to say you need to agree with the criticism completely – just acknowledge that they’ve made the effort to evaluate your performance and share their thoughts with you.


Learn from your mistakes

Once you’ve received and processed criticism, it’s time to put it to good use.

This means coming up with an action plan to help improve your performance and solve any problems you might be having.

If your boss is the one delivering the criticism, it’s likely that they’ve already considered how you could improve – so may have already put together a plan for you to follow. If so, make sure you agree with and understand it beforehand.

Then, actually implement it.


Final thoughts

Although most criticism will be given constructively, this isn’t always the case.

If you feel like a colleague or manager is singling you out, criticising you unfairly, or abusing their power, resist the temptation to retaliate.

Instead, stay calm and professional – bringing any concerns you may have to the attention of your HR team.


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