4 smart steps to deal with criticism at work

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There are two types of criticism – constructive and destructive.

Constructive is the best kind, because it usually comes in sandwich form:

Praise + constructive feedback + praise.

Good managers and team members will adopt this approach as it takes the sting out of the feedback and allows the recipient to take it on board without taking it so personally.

Destructive criticism generally lacks any praise or constructive comments such as a suggestion of what could be done to improve things next time. Destructive criticism often comes from someone who’s not well versed in motivating their team or colleagues, or who has no regard for your feelings.

Either way, being criticised in the workplace can be one of the most difficult things to deal with. It’s not just the criticism that you have to handle, but the relationship you have with the person delivering it and the actions you take once it’s been dished out.

If you need to deal with criticism at work, or you’re particularly sensitive, even to constructive feedback, then follow these four smart steps to quickly handle it with grace:

1. Acknowledge

The first step is to acknowledge the criticism. Let the person who’s criticising you know that you’ve heard them and will take on board their feedback and if it’s constructive, that you’ll think about their suggestions. You don’t have to act on the criticism in that red hot minute. In fact in most instances its best not to.

The key here is to step back and not take it personally. A little distance from the initial conversation will help you look at it more objectively and less as a personal affront.

A great sense check is to ask yourself: If this criticism was being directed at somebody else, what would you think about it?

2. Digest

You’ve heard the advice ‘to sleep on it’. When it comes to criticism, sometimes it’s best to take stock and give it a good night’s sleep before responding or taking any further action. Or, if that’s not possible, just a few minutes away from the situation or person to clear your head and get some physical distance from the situation will help you think it through and decide what you want to do next.

Ask yourself:

  • Was the criticism fair?
  • Was it constructive?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Can you take on board their suggestions?
  • Can you add in your own?

If it helps, write it down or talk to someone you trust, outside of work. You may be tempted to talk to a colleague or work friend about it, but getting someone’s support and opinion from outside the office will help give you an objective perspective. Their thoughts won’t be clouded by their view of the person or the criticism you’ve received.

3. Action

Decide what actions you can take based on the criticism. Were their suggestions useful and do you have any thoughts on how the situation can be improved next time? Decide how you want to move forwards proactively, even if that means standing your ground.

4. Feedback

It’s now time to have a conversation with the person who dealt out the criticism. Whatever you think of the person, it’s always best to start by thanking them for being honest with you and sharing their thoughts. This not only shows professionalism but also a great deal of maturity, and will strengthen your relationship. Then, let them know that you thought about what they said. Finally share the actions you’re going to take to move forwards.

Final thoughts for dealing with the trickiest criticisers

If you find, after using the 4 step process that the person who’s criticising you at work is persistent, unkind and their motivation is not to help you but to bring you down, then the quickest way to deal with the criticism is to rise above it.

Try and understand why they’re doing it (maybe they’re jealous or feel threatened by you?) and just keep doing your thing. Thank them for their input but state your position clearly.

Leave a Comment

Have you been criticised at work? How did you deal with it? And, have you ever had to dish out any criticism – how did you handle it?

Hate your job and fancy yourself as a freelancer? You want to say hello to Jen, our guest contributor with a passion for going for your dreams. When Jen isn’t writing for us about starting a biz, she’s hanging out with her tabby cat Monty and coaching women to quit their jobs and take the leap. She likes jigsaws, cheese, books and crafts and loves nothing more than the feeling of sunshine on her face. Has been known to throw Zumba-moves in front of her idols. 



Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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