Taking criticism is rarely easy and can oftentimes be downright unpleasant. But it’s a part of life, particularly in the workplace. To succeed in business – and life in general – you must be able to handle constructive criticism.

In an office environment, this can be feedback from a manager, a supervisor, a co-worker, or a colleague. Regardless of who’s giving it, constructive criticism is an important tool in any workplace, and how you handle it could very well determine the trajectory of your career, for good or ill. There’s no foolproof or guaranteed way to deal with criticism, but below are some steps to dealing with criticism in a positive and professional manner.

 

  1. Whatever Your Initial Reaction Just STOP

This is a tricky one, but it may also be the most important. A lot of times, when you’re being criticized, your first instinct will be to get defensive. Whatever your initial response is, do your best to stop it, immediately. Try to control your facial expressions and/or body language – no reaction is the best reaction – and don’t vocalize any knee-jerk quips or replies that pop into your head.

The natural human response to being attacked is to defend. But the absolute worst way to handle criticism is to attack the person offering it. Remember that criticism in the workplace is intended to help you improve, so don’t take it personally, and make yourself a silent promise to do better moving forward.

 

  1. Listen and Process the Criticism

Listen to what’s being said to you, rather than just reacting to it or getting defensive. Your boss (or colleague) is likely coming from a place of genuinely wanting to see you grow. Acknowledge the feedback (which is not the same as agreeing with it), and don’t look to lay blame or make excuses. Just take it in, and don’t interrupt.

Remember, evaluating staff is literally part of a manager’s job. Criticism is a crucial part of quality control in any business, and if you’re an employee who doesn’t handle it well, you’re marking yourself as a problem for management. Make it clear to your manager that you understand the criticism being offered, and pledge to improve your performance in that regard. Demonstrate an understanding of what needs to be improved upon and commit to making those improvements.

 

  1. Thank Your Critic

This may be tough for some folks, but it’s important. Taking criticism the right way has a lot to do with being a professional. Look your critic in the eye and thank them for the feedback. It shows that you’re a true professional, and it also shows that you acknowledge the time the other person took to share their thoughts and observations with you.

 

  1. Ask Questions

Now is the time for you to respond to the criticism, and a great way to do is to ask questions. Try to get to the centre of the issue at hand, and don’t focus on little details – it’s not a debate.

For example, if you’re being criticized for being too blunt with a colleague, ask if there was something specific that you said or did that was problematic, or if there are any other examples of that sort of behaviour on your part. It’s also crucial for you to acknowledge that you’re not disputing the feedback; in this example, admit that you could have handled the situation better, or that you wouldn’t necessarily appreciate being dealt with in that manner yourself.

Perhaps most importantly on this point, seek out solutions on moving forward. Ask for tips on how to deal with a similar situation in the future, or how to avoid a repeat incident. It shows that you’re sincerely engaged in the process and are making a true effort to improve.

 

  1. Follow Up

This last one is less crucial than the others, especially in a less formal constructive-criticism situation (e.g. from a colleague, rather than your manager), but in many situations dealing with constructive criticism, ask for a follow-up discussion. It will provide you with an opportunity to return to the issue, and for you to ask any more questions once you’ve had time to think about the feedback and truly process it, as well as think about solutions, and even ask others for advice. Once again, it shows engagement and a genuine desire to take in the feedback and improve your performance, which are traits that any manager would want in a member of their team.

It’s not always easy to hear constructive criticism, and for many managers, it’s not a lot of fun to give either. But this type of feedback is one of the best tools for improvement and development available to both managers and employees alike. Keep that in mind, and follow the steps outlined above, and you can become a better employee, colleague, and person.

 

Justin Anderson