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5 Steps to Help You Handle Criticism at Work

If you are like me and many others, you know how difficult it is to deal with criticism, whether in a private setting or in a larger group, for example at the workplace or an interview. Unfortunately, we often react negatively when it comes to both unjustified criticism as well as to constructive criticism that might be appropriate and might actually be helpful to us, make us aware of weaknesses or help us improve our skills. And yet it is difficult for us to deal with the emotions that any type of negative feedback can evoke. We feel uncomfortable, the heart begins to race and we automatically take a defensive position. Sometimes we may even get caught up and the criticism is translated as an attack that may lead to a counterattack on our part, instead of dealing with the criticism appropriately.


Is it possible to learn to accept tough criticism at work without taking it personally? We believe it’s a skill worth developing. Here are five healthy ways to deal with criticism at work or after an interview that will help take your career to the next level.


  1. Suppress Your First Reaction

It is best not to respond at the first sign of criticism. There is a scientific reason for that. Your brain may need a second to absorb and process the situation so that you can react to it accordingly. This first reaction that comes up is usually not always the best. Crossed arms, a dismissive expression, a snippy reply. You almost automatically go into a defensive stance. You should stop this first reaction and try to stay calm and  aware.


  1. Remember the Benefits of Criticism

By not responding negatively, you have signaled to your counterpart that you are open to criticism. You should spend the next few seconds consciously reminding yourself of the benefits of criticism. Good criticism is not simply thrown in your face. Constructive criticism helps you improve your skills and the quality of your work. Meaningful criticism will never make you feel like everything you’re doing is wrong. Criticism should always come across as a guidance that there is simply still room for improvement. It is also important that you separate the criticism from the person giving you feedback. It doesn’t have to come from your favorite colleague or mentor to be useful. 


  1. Listen Carefully to Understand

To avoid misunderstandings, listen carefully to understand exactly what the other person’s criticism is about. This includes giving him/her the opportunity to fully express their thoughts without interruptions. When the person is done, repeat what they told you and let them know that you want to be absolutely sure you understand what they said. Try to refrain from analyzing what you have heard or questioning it straight away. It is not only difficult to accept constructive criticism – it is also sometimes difficult to express it. The other person may not be able to find the right words or be nervous, so sometimes misunderstandings may happen. That is the reason why you should rather ask – instead of answering your counterpart by interpreting what they said.


  1. Say Thank You

This may be difficult for you, but you should definitely thank them for the feedback. A thank you does not automatically mean that you agree with their point of view, it shows respect for the person who took the time to give you feedback. When you say thank you, don’t overdo it: You don’t have to be overly apologetic when you thank them. Acknowledge their feedback and maintain a sincere attitude. This will ensure you show up with confidence even in a difficult situation. 


  1. See Criticism as Help

Remember that all constructive feedback (including negative feedback) is a sign of interest and a sign that people want to help you do better. It would be far worse for people to notice you doing bad work and not say a word. Now is the time to look into the feedback. Even if you don’t agree with every part of the feedback, don’t get caught up in the discussion. Acknowledge the parts that you can agree on and try to work on solutions. Ask for specific examples so that you can understand the other person’s point of view. It is always wise to also ask for suggestions and ideas in order to be able to approach the matter differently in the future.


Constructive criticism is a great way to identify and work on your own weaknesses. If you immediately take a defensive position, you may lose important feedback that could help you. 

The way we deal with negative feedback can either harm our career or accelerate it. Contact us and allow us to coach you through your next career step and offer you valuable feedback that will help you excel and stand out. 


Email: LynseyBrennan@esginc.com