10 Best Practices for Handling Criticism at Work

January 22, 2020
10 Best Practices for Handling Criticism at Work

Nobody’s perfect. And at this point in our lives, we’ve had to give and take our fair share of feedback.

But there is an art to its delivery and reception, especially at work. And developing effective ways to get your message across and handle criticism are key to keeping an open flow of communication between you and your coworkers, as well as ensuring the information lands. Whether you’re the messenger or recipient, here are 10 tips to help make the task less painful and more productive on both sides of the conversation.

How to Give Criticism

1. Think about timing:

Something as simple as taking the other person’s head space, schedule and workload into consideration can help make the delivery that more digestible on their end. Pro tip: Ask them if they have time for some feedback. Framing the meeting with this small cue can instantly prepare them for the criticism ahead.

2. Make it commonplace:

Feedback is an everyday part of working with others — treat it that way. Most people want to learn and grow in their roles, and constructive criticism is a key element to developing their expertise.

3. Be specific and use context:

Everyone enjoys a good story from time to time, but the dramatics don’t belong here. Put plainly: don’t amplify or, on the other side, downplay the impact of the person’s actions or work. Clearly explain what you noticed and its effects. If it was a major or minor issue, make sure to portray that accurately and then move on.

4. Pause: 

It’s important to make the conversation a discussion, allowing the other person to respond and react to your feedback. Put yourself in their shoes. Handling criticism at work isn’t always easy, and hearing their perspective may change how you originally saw the situation. It’s a good way to understand where they’re coming from before moving forward on a solution together.

5. Discuss next steps:

So, the person has some work to do. Now what? Take an active role in identifying the key takeaways from your conversation and the next best steps to address them. This shows that you’re invested in their success, and gives them actionable tools to implement.

How to Handle Criticism

1. Go in with an open mind: 

Check your ego at the door, and try to go into the meeting with an open mind. Listen. The intentions of the other person are usually genuine, and the critique is given as a way to help you improve.

2. Be mindful of your body language: 

This includes your physical cues, as well. Relaxing your posture and uncrossing your arms shows that you’re open to what the other person is saying instead of defensive.

3. Don’t take it personally: 

Sometimes handling criticism at work is a challenge because it feels like an attack on you as a person — your value. But by taking a step back and checking in with tips one and two, it’s easier to view the feedback from a different viewpoint. If the person delivering the message is acting aggressive, confrontational or unprofessional, be sure to bring it to the attention of HR or a manager.

4. Ask questions: 

It’s always better to clarify than assume, especially in these type of situations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand exactly what the other person is saying, and you’re both on the same page. This also shows that you’re engaged and looking to learn from their critique.

5. Follow up:

Scheduling a quick follow-up meeting demonstrates that you’re taking their feedback seriously and are making an effort to improve. If you are unsure of how to address some of their voiced concerns, this is a great time to share your experiences and get their thoughts. It’s also a time to explain your rebuttals if you were unable to initially.

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