Best ways to respond to criticism

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It’s not always easy to take criticism, particularly if you feel it’s unjustified. But, it’s something you should expect to experience at some point during your career. So, how should you respond in those circumstances?

Be professional

Whatever form of criticism you receive, it’s important you handle it in a professional manner. You don’t have to agree with it. You certainly don’t have to like it. But you must be courteous, calm and respectful in your engagement, even if the other party chooses not to.

How you respond to these situations shows what kind of character you are in a work environment. Don’t do anything that could make things worse. Be as professional as you can be and manage your emotional response. See it as an opportunity to learn. Even if you feel the criticism is not justified, you can see it as way of understanding someone else’s thinking.

Ask for the point to be repeated

Sometimes criticisms are knee-jerk reactions or not put across in the most diplomatic way. As a result, your response may not be aligned with the original intention.But once you have got the information, think about a response that shows you’re trying to get a better understanding of the issue:

“So, what you’re saying is….?”

By seeking clarity, you can help create some objectivity. Focusing purely on facts can allow the situation to be about more than just personalities. It can also shine a spotlight on whether the accusation has any foundation or can simply be dismissed. By getting clarity you’re removing the focus from your emotional reaction and putting it back onto the criticism itself.

Open the discussion

Some criticism simply reflects someone else’s perspective on a situation. That’s why using language like “I can see why you might think that, but I probably haven’t explained the situation well” can help show how you appreciate the critic’s point of view. By doing so, this allows them to be open to your perspective as well.

Manage the ongoing discussion

This might not be the end of the discussion, however. Your critic may stand firm. If that is the case, be respectful in how you try to move on. You can approach it by saying:

“I appreciate the feedback and I’ll certainly think about your input going forward.”

This shows you as someone willing to listen and open to change, trying to do your best in the future.

Engaging with colleagues

It’s always worth putting the comments from colleagues into context.

Do you tend to respect their opinion? Are they consistently critical about things at work? Is there any reason why they might want to undermine you to serve their own purposes? If the latter’s the case, you’ll probably find allies in helping to dismiss their comments.

But if your critic has sway in the company, it's worth meeting with them to clear the air in order to move the conversation forward. That could require eliciting management support, putting across both sides of the situation but arguing your point of view.

Try to find concrete solutions to address the opinion. For example, you can say:

“It would be great if you could give me some ideas on how I should deal with this differently in the future.”

By being balanced in your discussions, you’ll at least be seen to be working for the good of the company.

Working with your boss

It’s a tougher situation if your boss is your critic.

This is something you need to address in person, hearing your line manager’s perspective. If you feel the criticism is valid, accept it and adapt. If you believe it’s unfair, try to argue your case. Even if your boss still doesn’t come around to your way of thinking you can still chart a course based on better understanding on both sides.

If the criticism is constructive, make sure you take it on board and don’t forget to say thank you. For example:

“I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.”

Once you articulate what you will do going forward, you may want to ask for a follow-up meeting to agree on the next steps.

Godfrey Oyeniran

Career coach, financial coach, passionate about personal transformation.

3 min read

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