Negative Feedback at Work: 7 Ways to Handle Criticism
Negative feedback at work is never easy. Rationally, we understand that nobody’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean we like to hear about our imperfections from other people. It can be hard to handle criticism gracefully — whether it comes from a colleague, a direct report, or even your boss. However, the way you manage criticism at work can help you separate yourself from the crowd, and dealing with it effectively is a leadership quality.
That’s precisely why it’s so important to think about how you deal with professional criticism, both internally and externally. Here are 7 tips on how to manage your emotions and reaction when you’re faced with criticism at work:
1. Try to absorb the criticism without letting it control you.
It’s hard to absorb negative feedback without instinctively getting emotional, and in the workplace, it’s especially important to try to react as rationally as possible. If it helps, take a deep breath and wait until you have a bit of distance to think about the situation and criticism more clearly. If it’s unfair or needs explanation, you still don’t necessarily need to respond immediately. Giving yourself some space can not only help you absorb the information but also give you room to plan a response. Nobody ever said that you can’t respond at a later time and you may be far more effective once you’ve had a chance to think things over.
Even when the critique is quite deep and affects you personally, try to deal with it with as rationally as possible. It might help to take a deep breath and wait until you have a bit of distance to think about the situation more clearly.
2. Find the merit in a well-intentioned, constructive comment.
No pain, no gain. This little truism applies to so many aspects of life. Criticism is important for personal and professional growth. After all, no one is perfect and everyone has room for improvement. People who know you well—including colleagues and managers—often want to see you succeed and even if criticism is not always communicated in the best way, you can choose to turn a negative experience or set of comments into something positive by how you view it. You can’t fix a problem you don’t realize you have and critique helps you home in on areas you may not have realized were an issue.
3. But don’t just accept an inappropriate critique.
Sometimes, however, criticism comes from a bad place. If someone is trying to undermine you for no reason but to get ahead, or out of politics, spite or jealousy, you don’t have to take his sort of criticism lying down. Depending on the situation, this is the time to stand your ground and call out the person on what they are doing. The point of this is not to escalate tensions but simply to confront someone for a groundless attack. This type of confrontation can be difficult, but sometimes you are left with no other choice.
4. Remember to say “Thank you.”
When someone gives you advice or a critique that’s meant to help you succeed, consider the fact that the person sharing that information with you may feel awkward in doing so. Often it’s much easier to let an issue slide or simply accept the status quo. The fact that someone is actually willing to risk a negative reaction from you may sometimes warrant your gratitude. It may not feel good, but sometimes criticism is good for you and worthy of thanks.
5. Sometimes, less is more.
Just because you accept criticism doesn’t mean you have to apologize for a mistake profusely (or at all). It can be awkward for both for the recipient as well as the messenger to dwell on a criticism, so often it’s best to simply let the moment pass after a brief acknowledgment of the issue. Depending on the situation, there may simply be no need for an elaborate apology or detailed justifications and you risk sounding defensive.
6. Make the changes you need to make.
Rolling with criticism also means implementing changes. Rarely is criticism something so fundamental to your personality or life approach that you can’t make some improvements in response. If your manager or colleagues see that you can take negative feedback and actually implement changes, you’ll be respected for not only being confident enough to receive negative feedback—but proactive and flexible enough to react to it.
7. Move on.
We’ve all had moments in our lives where we replay and repeat moments in our heads that we regret. As hard as it may be, that’s not the ideal response to criticism. Giving criticism that amount of attention almost always means you are diverting energy away from all the positive things you could be doing for your career. A career is for the long run, and over the years, you will encounter naysayers and criticism from all sorts of people—ranging from colleagues to managers to clients. It won’t be the first time or last time you receive criticism, so after you’ve given negative feedback it’s due consideration and attention, it’s time to move on!
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