How to Take Criticism at Work

“Your work sucks!” “You work too slow!”…Hopefully you have never been criticized in such a direct manner but most of us have faced some form of criticism at work. The criticism you encountered at work may have been stylized as “helpful feedback” or “constructive criticism”. 

Criticism from your manager or colleagues can be hard to hear, especially when you really did try your best! In any case, it is important to know how to deal with criticism at work.

1.  Constructive or destructive criticism?

Foremost, figure out which type of criticism was offered to you. There are two types- “constructive criticism” and “destructive criticism”, or “unhelpful criticism”- the kind which offers no purpose other than to put you down and erode your self-esteem, without any useful ideas on how to actually improve the situation. 

Destructive criticism often worsens the problem or creates a rift between workmates. Simply saying to a colleague: “Your ideas are bad” or “You’re not very good”, does not particularly help the person to improve or grow. Usually the only positive outcome is that the person offering the criticism can unleash their bitterness and get something off their chest.

“Constructive criticism” or “constructive feedback” on the other hand, is meant to “construct” you so that you can improve your work and yourself. An example would be: “That was an interesting idea. With a little more research and data to back it up, you may be on to something.” This feedback was specific and actionable- it pointed out what was good as well as what can be worked on and how. This feedback is also motivating- it actually encourages the person to strive for more as opposed to damaging their confidence or creating resentment.

2.  Clarify the criticism 

Regardless of the type of criticism that was offered to you, make efforts to clarify the situation. If the criticism was destructive, see if you can gather more details to turn it into something constructive. 

For example, if a colleague or manager says: “Your work is poor”, ask them to tell you specifically what makes your work poor, and then discuss solutions with them. Let them know that in future, their criticisms should be structured to be specific and solution-oriented.

3.  Be proactive to seek criticism

Continuous learning should be ingrained in you. If you are not receiving enough feedback at work, go and seek it out for yourself. Don’t be afraid to hear constructive feedback- after all, your aim is to improve yourself, your skills, and grow in your career. You will improve much faster if you have your manager or colleagues’ opinions on what you can improve on.

Once you have a more precise idea on what aspects of your job you can work on, create a plan on how you can adjust and improve. Ensure you plan has measurable targets. And be sure these targets are challenging yet manageable.

4.  Offer constructive criticism in return

Once you have been offered criticism, it is your best chance to reciprocate! Let the person who gave you criticism know what they themselves can change to improve their work. You should praise what is good and then state what can be improved on and how. In practical terms, how can your colleague change and improve on the issue? Is there something you can do to help them?

Don’t be too personal or accusatory. Focus instead on how their methods and behaviors can be adjusted. Ensure they understand the benefit of making such changes and provide practical, specific solutions. For example, if your criticism is “It would be better if you worked more as a team in order to solve problems faster”, your practical solutions could be to highlight specific tasks and team members that they should approach. Specify how a particular task can be split between the relevant team members.

There you have it! Some tips on how to take criticism at work. The important thing to remember is that any type of criticism can be acted upon positively. Be proactive- seek out what you can improve on to grow in your career.


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