5 Simple Tips for Handling Workplace Criticism Like a Boss

Updated 04/29/19

Even when you’ve done everything in your power to get things right at work, some days you just can’t win with your boss. It might only be small soundbites of feedback each time, but over the course of the day, they can really add up and catch you off-guard. If you don’t learn how to handle this constructive feedback from the get-go, it could negatively impact your career. No one really likes being criticized, and while it can often feel like a personal assault, there is a silver lining.

Did you ever stop to think that this could be your boss trying to help you improve? When you welcome feedback, the lines of communication are open, and it can dramatically improve your working relationship. In fact, a study by academic Emily Heaphy and consultant Marcial Losada in Harvard Business Review found that negative feedback is an essential part of the mix because it “has the ability to grab someone’s attention” and “guard against complacency.” So before you get defensive or have an embarrassing meltdown, here are five tips for handling criticism at work like a boss.

Remember That Criticism Will Help You Improve

Did you ever stop to think what would happen if your boss never gave you any feedback? How would you ever improve? Criticism is your boss’s only way to help you grow professionally. It might seem contradictory, but your boss employed you for a reason and could see your long-term potential. Your boss probably experienced similar critique during his or her own career, which is why he or she is now at the top. So if you want to advance in your role, understand that criticism is for your own good.

Don't Get Defensive—Ever

Your body’s natural reflex during an attack is to defend, but in this instance, it’s probably the worst thing you could do. Not only will it make the situation worse, but it could also stagnate your professional career. If co-workers and managers can’t approach you with practical criticism for fear of an emotional outburst, then you won’t improve, and that’s not good. Just remember to not take it personally—critique at work is purely professional, and not an individual attack. Let it be your motivation to try a little harder next time, or just simply improve.

Process the Feedback First, and Then Respond

Even when you’re a deft hand at taking criticism, sometimes it can come at you from left field when you least expect it. Before you respond, take some time to digest it first. Think about what was said: Was it fair? Is it useful? How can you improve? Then you can formulate a professional reply that isn’t based on emotion alone.

It's Important to Stay Calm

Losing your cool is never a good look, wherever you are, so please don’t let your boss or colleagues see you get angry. It’s professional suicide. If you’re prone to getting hot under the collar, then you personally need to work on this so it doesn’t affect your employment. If you still feel rage, then save it for outside the office walls and ears, instead choosing a place you can vent with a friend (preferably not a co-worker). Quite often it’s how the feedback was delivered rather than the comments themselves that has affected you, and if this happens, you should read our final step below.

Make Time to Discuss the Problem and Ask Questions

So you’ve followed all our steps, but after much consideration, you still feel the feedback was unjust or inaccurate. Don’t just shrug your shoulders: Like with everything in life, communication is key. Line up a quick meeting with your boss to go over it; negotiate, don’t retaliate. Make sure you come prepared with key points that outline your case and ask questions that probe their reasons for handing out the criticism. Your boss will respect you for prioritizing his/her feedback and taking pride in your profession.

How do you take criticism at work? Share your tips in the comments.

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