How to take criticism well and learn from it

You’ve been excelling at your job for months or years, working hard and doing your job to the best of your ability. Then it happens – you get called into your manager’s office and he or she delivers a scathing report of your recent work.

Getting criticised on the job is never fun but some people are much better at dealing with criticism than others. What’s their secret? Are they superhuman, devoid of emotion or just born with a very thick skin? Often they’ve just learned to deal with criticism better by working through a series of steps that keeps them calm and allows them to see through the shock of the criticism and to gain a sense of perspective.

After all, well-intentioned and directed criticism can be seen as essential for career growth. Learning to take it well on the job can be a huge advantage when it comes to progression.

Ask yourself which part of the criticism is most helpful to your growth

Often criticism comes in batches where your direct report or manager lists several things which you need to improve on or that have gone wrong. When we are confronted with a shopping list of negatives, it’s only human to feel hurt and even mildly depressed.

Single out the information you’ve been given in your head and look for the elements of the feedback that mostly relate to you and your performance. Think about positive feedback you have had in the past and try to weigh that up against the negative feedback you are being given.

Try not to take the criticism to heart

Learning not to “take things personally” takes discipline, maturity and skill. When we are criticised the natural response is to react. In the moment, remember to take lots of deep breaths, make eye contact, keep calm and make sure your voice remains even and not raised.

Often a manager will have to provide criticism because they themselves are under the microscope. Don’t take criticism as an attack on your personal self, your true nature or your future prospects. Learn to see criticism as a moment in time that you will move on from.


Make sure you stay calm

Staying calm when under fire is one of the most effective tools to keep you in your job role and achieving as you should. Far too often, when faced with what they perceive to be negative criticism, workers lash out at the person delivering the bad news, either deliberately or unintentionally. This is never good for your career.

Avoid the temptation to argue excessively and never bad-mouth your manager or direct report after receiving a bad performance review or piece of news. Fostering a mature and even-minded countenance can be a winning tactic when you are being “pulled up” for something that you have or have not done.

Resist the urge to respond straight away

Another great tactic is to make sure you do not respond right away. If the criticism has come via email, this is even more relevant. Respond promptly, saying that you’ve received the email and will address the points in it within a certain timeframe (normally 12 to 24 hours would be fine, longer in some cases).

That way you’ll have a time to get over the shock of bad news and you’ll be able to prepare a succinct, well thought out and appropriate response without causing undue hurt and making things worse. If the criticism comes face-to-face, this is even more essential. Ask for some time to think about the points raised, then call another meeting when your head is clear and your emotions are not running rife.

Try to look at the bigger picture

Will the criticism matter in a week, a month, a year? Often when we received bad news it can really floor us – we feel that it’s the worst thing that could ever happen and we start to feel depressed and stressed about our future.

Try to look on the bright side. If you’re not actually being fired or reprimanded heavily, allow yourself to see the criticism as a learning and growth opportunity that you will be able to rise up from and improve as a person and employee. Things are never as bad in hindsight.

Follow up after you have been criticised

When someone takes the time to criticise us, they often need an answer or a resolution to the points they have raised. Remember that every great leader has taken criticism at some point, every actor has to deal with negative reviews and the higher up the chain you are, the more likely it is that your decisions and actions will be under the microscope.

Ask to have another meeting in a week or so when things have calmed down and you have had the opportunity to address some of the points raised in an effective way. Try to capture everything you were criticised for down on a piece of paper and record the conversation for future development and growth.

Clear the air – rise above

It’s been discovered that managers don’t always hire the person with the most experience but the person who is the best “culture fit” for an organisation. If you respond badly to negative feedback you could run the risk of alienating your colleagues and harming your career.

No one achieves and excels all the time, so allow yourself the grace to fail sometimes without beating yourself up. Equally, make sure that you don’t harm your relationship with the person giving the negative feedback any further. Rise above the situation and keep your mindset calm and productive and you’ll do yourself a favour.


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