Handling Constructive Criticism in the Workplace

If not handled properly, negative feedback from your colleagues and superiors at work can affect all parts of your life through added stress and loss of confidence, both in and out of the office.

Constructive Criticism in the Workplace - review magnifyier - greenWhile we can’t avoid criticism, we can control how we react to a negative circumstance, and even transform it into a positive one.  It’s important not to equate all criticism as a sign that you aren’t doing something right, or personalize what might have been intended as purely constructive feedback.

Let’s explore some tips to help deal with constructive criticism on the job.

Listen first.

If you are receiving negative feedback from your superior at work, it’s important not to dismiss what is being said if you want to help improve your performance in the future.  Many bosses appreciate an employee who can tolerate a moderate amount of constructive criticism without furthering it into a potentially uncomfortable situation.  Being open to comments and responses pertaining to your work performance, whether positive or negative, will only enable you to grow within your field in the long term.


Misunderstandings and misinterpretations happen often, especially in the workplace.  If you are caught off guard by negative feedback from your boss, there is nothing wrong with asking for more elaboration or explanation.  There is no way to correct or amend a situation in need of rectifying if you are unsure of how your work performance is being interpreted.  Requesting a case in point or example is (or is not) expected of you is certainly acceptable, and can help alleviate stressful situations down the road.

Keep your composure.

It’s common for an individual who feels “under fire” to react defensively.  However, it’s imperative to remain calm and act professional even when receiving negative feedback at work.  Venting in annoyance at the situation should be saved for outside the office.  Offer your boss or colleague a sufficient opportunity to convey his or her thoughts and opinions.  It’s quite possible the issue at hand isn’t nearly as serious as it seems when considered in a calm manner.

Ascertain accuracy. 

While it is important to make sure that we are not acting overly self-protective when approached with negative feedback, it is also reasonable to make sure we are being approached with accurate information.  Are others in agreement with the criticisms?  It can be beneficial to glean additional feedback from other co-workers, mentors/advisors, and even family and friends to help you determine if the criticism is valid.

Resolve the issue.

In the end, constructive criticism isn’t about blame, but rather solving the problem for the greater good of the organization.  Whether you must adjust your own behaviors, recognize an outside issue, or assist others in changing their work patterns, it’s best to simply move forward with the corrective behavior, and not dwell on the context of the criticism itself.

In Summary

It is difficult for anyone to hear negative information about themselves or something they have or have not done.  That is why a simple list of “dos and don’ts can be beneficial to keep in mind when receiving criticism at the workplace:Constructive Criticism in the Workplace - two business men at conference table

  • Do listen impartially.
  • Do request examples and specifics.
  • Do remain accountable.
  • Do contemplate the feedback and fix the problem.
  • Do consider the criticism a learning experience.
  • Don’t dismiss the criticism.
  • Don’t active defensive or cynical.
  • Don’t justify the actions in question.
  • Don’t dwell on the mistake.

The Takeaway

Of course, if you have a boss who absolutely never takes your suggestions or work performance seriously, and you feel you are being frequently approached with undue negative feedback, then it may be necessary to reassess your work environment.  However, it’s important to remember that most criticism that occurs within the workplace is certainly not personal.  It’s best to deal with it directly without over-pondering and move on; and you may just find you have acquired new skills as well as a fresh outlook on your own work performance.

By Fred Coon, CEO


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