Q&A: How To Handle Criticism At Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 11, 2021 | Published January 22, 2021

Updated March 11, 2021

Published January 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Handling criticism at work can be challenging. But if you handle it well, constructive workplace criticism can become a valuable tool for improving your performance. In this article, we define constructive criticism and its sources and discuss ways you can deal with criticism about your work.

Read more: 4 Ways Feedback Improves Performance in the Workplace

What is constructive criticism?

Constructive criticism is thoughtful, well-reasoned feedback that helps you improve in the workplace. It's not a personal attack, blame for things beyond your control or a negative critique meant to embarrass you or to hurt you or your reputation.

Read more: Workplace Bully: Definition and Examples

Who provides constructive workplace criticism?

You may receive constructive criticism from your boss or manager, peers, human resources representatives or other coworkers.

How is constructive criticism provided?

You may receive constructive criticism during a performance review, in a meeting, in a casual conversation or an email. Constructive criticism may be part of your training or regularly scheduled development sessions. People may also give you constructive criticism during the course of your usual workday as issues arise.

How can you handle constructive workplace criticism?

There are many steps you can take to make the most of constructive criticism from your boss or colleagues. The next time you receive constructive criticism at work, try:

Recognizing the good intention behind it

The first thing to do when receiving constructive criticism is to recognize its intent. Always assume the best intentions from the people providing criticism. They mean their constructive criticism to assist you, not to embarrass or upset you. It may help to think of criticism like an unpleasant-tasting vitamin supplement — it can cause momentary discomfort, but it's designed to be good for you.

Freeing yourself from emotional responses, defensiveness and excuses

Having an initial emotional reaction to hearing criticism is natural. It's OK to want to defend your choices and explain your actions. When receiving professional criticism, though, set aside those impulses. Constructive criticism is meant to help you improve your future work, so there's no need to try to justify your past decisions or deeds. Once you know that the criticism is well-intentioned and you don't need to defend or explain anything, you are ready to hear the offered criticism and apply it.

Read more: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Actively listening so you actually hear the constructive criticism

Assuming good intent and recognizing you don't need to be defensive, you are ready to listen to — and actually hear — criticism. Focus on what's being said and how it relates to the work you do. Engage in active listening, repeating back what you hear for confirmation. You might say, for example, “I hear you asking me to spend more time on daily reporting and less time on answering customer emails. Is that correct?” This helps you absorb the criticism and process it intellectually.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

Staying objective and not taking it personally

Another way to professionally handle criticism is to remember that it's not personal. Workplace criticism is not directed at you as an individual. The people offering it aren't negating your value as a person. You may want to imagine that the roles are reversed, and you are the one offering constructive criticism. Having empathy for the person giving feedback helps reinforce that the discussion is about the work, not the personalities involved.

Appreciating the offer to help you succeed

Your attitude about receiving feedback is vital. For instance, if you see criticism as an unnecessary annoyance, you are likely to ignore it. Choose to see criticism as an offer of help. Be grateful that you have support to do your job well and motivation to improve. When you view constructive criticism as assistance it becomes something to look forward to.

Being nice to yourself

Even when you know that constructive criticism isn't personal, you may sometimes be overly critical of yourself about it. Remember, no one is perfect. Regardless of how much you know, there is always more to learn. Congratulate yourself on the successes you've achieved, then anticipate future successes based on what you've learned from the feedback. If you find yourself being overly self-critical after receiving feedback, be empathetic again, and imagine changing places with your critic. This may help you extend yourself the same caring attitude that you'd readily offer someone else.

Getting clarification on points you may not understand or initially agree with

If you are uncertain about anything you hear in the criticism, get clarification as soon as possible. You can ask clarifying questions as you are receiving the feedback, or you can follow up later after you have had time to think about the criticism. Be sure you understand what's being asked of you so that any corrective action you take is appropriate.

Read more: How To Ask for Feedback

Planning a follow-up session to mark your progress

An essential part of making the most of the criticism you get is to plan a time to check back in and review your progress. Set a calendar reminder for yourself to schedule time together. Be prepared to share examples of how you have implemented the feedback. For example, if you were advised to increase your department's social media posting from three to five times weekly, bring evidence of the new posting schedule with you when you meet to follow up on the criticism.

Thanking the person who provided the feedback

Thank the person providing the criticism, acknowledging the thought and time they put into it. Let them know that you appreciate the offer of help. Showing your gratitude is a sign of respect for their efforts and lets them know that you value your working relationship. For example, you might say “Thank you for thinking this through and sharing your thoughts with me. I appreciate how this can help me improve my performance. I look forward to letting you know how I apply your helpful suggestions."

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