Dealing with Criticism in the Workplace
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Let’s face it, it is not unusual to encounter criticism at some stage of our working life. After all, according to Dictionary.com, criticism is:
“The act of passing judgement (sic) as to the merits of anything.”
We all know that people just love to pass judgement! Ultimately criticism can come in many forms, some being more obvious that others.
In this article, we’re going to explore the nature of criticism and how you can use it as a driving force to make you a better employee and a better person.
What is Criticism in the Workplace?
Criticism does not necessarily mean that a person is directly attacking you. In fact, what it often means is that the person providing the criticism just doesn’t know how to give appropriate feedback.
Criticism in the workplace is generally supposed to be constructive feedback designed to provide a helpful performance assessment that assists the person improve and better themselves.
Feedback is not something that should be designed to attack or blame, but rather an invitation for the employee to recognise an area where they could develop and improve.
Constructive feedback in the workplace is essential to professional development and when done correctly can help improve your overall performance, build stronger relationships and provide developmental opportunities.
Why Does it Occur?
What often happens is that managers don’t understand the best way to provide this constructive feedback, so it comes out as criticism.
Unfortunately, I can probably count on one hand the number of managers/leaders I’ve trained in my lifetime who haven’t identified the different types of feedback as negative and positive.
This is where the problem lies. Negative feedback does not have good connotations. It suggests that the feedback is bad. While we know that no one is perfect and everyone can improve in some way, this sort of approach to providing feedback is immediately going to get people reacting defensively and emotionally.
So now we know one of the main reasons why criticism exists, let’s look at some constructive ways that you can deal with this feedback in order to improve and make it a positive experience.
Tips for Dealing with Criticism?
Sometimes it can be very difficult to take criticism especially when it is delivered in a harsh way.
Other than providing feedback to the person providing you feedback, we can do little to change the way that feedback is delivered to us.
What we can do however, is change the way we think about criticism and try to make it as positive an experience as we can.
Tips for dealing with criticism:
Here are some tips for dealing with criticism in the workplace:
Understand why criticism occurs - Realising that most criticism comes from a lack of understanding on how to provide feedback can actually make it a bit more palatable.
Don’t take it personally - Criticism in the workplace is something that's generally delivered with the best of intentions. It can be very easy to get defensive, get upset or get angry at the person that's delivering the feedback. Try to remember that most criticism is not designed to be personal. The person delivering the feedback is trying to develop you and help you improve. I find it useful to keep a personal favourite quote in mind “Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behaviour and believe it.” Think to yourself, what could be the most generous explanation for why this person is giving me this feedback, then believe that reason. You’ll find yourself a much happier person.
Listen to the criticism - It can be easy to start dismissing criticism when you receiving it, but take the time to really listen. Be sure to reiterate the feedback back to the person that's delivering it, this will show that you have heard their concerns and that you are going to take their feedback into consideration.
View criticism as helpful - Remember that criticism is often an invitation for you to receive some training or work with your manager to help you improve. This is a great time to ask for some extra resources or assistance to help you with these improvements.
Help turn the criticism into constructive feedback - Even though you can’t stop a manager providing criticism, you can help them turn their feedback into constructive feedback. Ask questions to ensure you get to the heart of their issue and ask for examples to help you understand where you are going wrong. Once you have these things on the table, ask if you can work with the person providing the feedback to improve. You could ask them for suggestions as to what you can do differently.
Remember that mistakes happen - It can be easy to let criticism weigh on you. Remember that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. By hearing out the person providing the criticism, it gives you the opportunity to actively work on the feedback that they gave you so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Thank the person for their feedback - Although it might not seem like it at the time, criticism is actually something that shows the person cares about you enough to provide you with feedback to help you improve. Don’t forget to thank them for providing you with the opportunity to improve.
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