How to Deal with Criticism

Recently I received an email from a coworker, clearly angry in tone, berating my performance on a project I completed. My first reaction was irritation, then defensiveness, then I resorted to blaming everyone that did or didn’t have a hand in the project.

As a perfectionist, I have a tough time taking criticism from anyone – no matter how loving the source. Why allow others to put their two cents in when I’m already dealing with an overly-critical inner self?

But once the defensiveness subsided and I had handled the situation to the best of my ability, I was able to recognize something extremely important – if I were to remove the emotion from the situation and simply see it as neutral bits of information he was trying to convey, I could actually agree with several of the things he was saying.

In trying to protect my ego, I had stopped listening and shut down – a reaction that wasn’t helping him or me.

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered from dealing with criticism in the workplace.

Tip #1 – Don’t Take it Personally

Often times when we receive criticism, our ego jumps in with a list of reasons why we should be offended or hurt by the critique. Then, as soon as we make it about us instead of the issue at hand, emotions escalate the situation to an entirely new level.

If you notice that criticism makes you feel attacked and belittled, start to pay attention to how you are receiving the information. Is your reaction proportionate to how the information is being conveyed? Or are you becoming emotional because you feel personally attacked?

Stand firm in your convictions about yourself, and don’t listen to criticisms in a way that they aren’t being offered.

Tip #2 – Listen Fully, then React


Even when criticism is offered in a constructive way, we often don’t get all that we can out of it because as soon as we hear that we might have done something wrong, we shut down.

In the experience I recently had, there was valid information to be taken in – information that could help me next time I complete a similar project and information that could help me understand what the company expected from me.

You don’t lose anything from listening, and you aren’t giving up your right to respond to the critique. You are simply taking everything in so you know how to respond in an effective way.

Tip #3 – Pay Attention to Where the Criticism is Coming From

If a coworker or boss comes at you with an overly harsh criticism, they may be reacting more to events unfolding in their own life than anything you might have done in the workplace. Or, that may simply be their normal way of handling situations.

Either way, take it all with a grain of salt. Be your own critic – pay attention to the things you could have done differently, but also stand firm in what you know you did right.


Tip #4 – See Criticism as a Gift

The most effective people in the world have used criticism as a springboard to get them to the next level. How? By using it as a way to gather information from people who may have more experience and know-how than them, or by simply using the critique as motivation to keep doing what they know will eventually work for them.

Either way, it’s a gift.

Tip #5 – Defend Only When Necessary

We spend a great deal of time concocting a defense when we feel attacked. Sometimes this is necessary, but often times it just keeps both parties stuck in a back and forth battle of wills.

State your opinion or stance, but don’t get too caught up in defending yourself – that can make you feel even less powerful and in control than you did before. Take in what you need to and move on.

If the criticism is coming from a boss or a superior, this is essential – it proves that you can deal with a critique without jumping off the deep end.

Tip #6 – Don’t Dwell

Minor situations can be blown up into major catastrophes if we spend too much time dwelling on what has already happened. Any criticism is just a blip in the radar of who we truly are – it shouldn’t be taken as anything more.

Once you’ve taking everything you can from the situation, move on to something else. Don’t continue to repeat the story to those around you – this only keeps you stuck in that energy.

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Kayla Albert spent two years plugging away as a freelance writer before taking a job as a community manager for a local newspaper. She enjoys writing about productivity and personal growth topics. You can also find her at


  1. Hugh Tyzack on the 3rd July

    I fully agree with that it is important to keep your cool. Too often we simply jump up in anger at criticism that is fully justified and which we, at the end of the day, could take in a constructive manner.

  2. Barbara on the 4th July

    I loved the honesty of your post. As soon as we start reacting to criticism we stop listening, I think is a key message.

  3. Colin on the 12th July

    Criticism can be defined as “An evaluation of work”, or as “Disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings”.

    The former is fine; it usually includes pluses and minuses and often is devised to provide balance between the two. The latter is what happens more often, and is what gets people’s backs up.

    As for your Tip#3 “If a coworker or boss comes at you with an overly harsh criticism, they may be reacting more to events unfolding in their own life than anything you might have done in the workplace.” I’m sorry, but that’s their problem.

    I know everyone feels they do more than they are paid for, but some of us actually do! If your colleagues and clients can recognise you have done exceptionally well, but you boss comes in griping about something minor and going on and on and on about it, I don’t see why you should have to prove “… that you can deal with a critique without jumping off the deep end.”

    Unfairness should NEVER be tolerated, whether it comes from a boss, a colleague, or a client. By tolerating it and “turning the other cheek” you are simply enabling them to carry on with their own petty ego trip.

    Another reason for unfair criticism is simply financial. Performers earn bonuses. If your work can be criticised enough that you lose that bonus, then some bosses see that as “job done and order restored”.

  4. Elly on the 8th December

    So difficult for me.
    Have to work on that.

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