A Guide To Accepting Constructive Criticism


When was the last time you requested notes on your performance? If you’re like most of us, it’s probably been a while.

According to the authors of a Harvard Business Review article, less than 50% of executives ask their boss for feedback. That’s because feedback is hard to hear: People simply don’t like being criticized.

However, feedback is also essential for your career growth and progress. So, rather than thinking of it as something to avoid, here’s how to welcome—even enjoy—constructive criticism.

Remember it’s Normal

Tough feedback has a way of making you feel like everyone else is more capable or competent than you. In other words, when you’ve just taken a mental hit, that’s when your coworkers usually seem most successful.

But remember that you’re far from the only person who’s ever messed up. If you never received feedback, that would mean you weren’t trying new things or challenging yourself professionally. And even though the person in the office next to you may seem on top of the world, he or she has gotten criticism too (probably many times!).

Don’t Let it Snowball

To effectively deal with constructive criticism, you can’t let it take on more emotional weight than it deserves. Which means that, if your boss tells you she’d like you to pay more attention to detail, don’t panic and start thinking, “I’m always making mistakes!” or “I can’t do this job!” Typically, constructive criticism is both focused and specific. Concentrate on the exact suggestion or point the other person made, and when you find yourself spinning off onto other facets of your work, tell yourself, “Hey—that’s not what that person was talking about.”

Stay Open

When your boss says, “I was disappointed with the presentation you gave last week,” your first reaction is probably to defend yourself. Most people are pretty good about keeping this contained; for example, you might respond, “Thank you for letting me know. What could I do better next time?” Yet inside, you’re thinking, “My presentation was fine,” or “You didn’t give me enough time to fully prepare.”

It’s difficult, but try to stay open both externally and internally. That doesn’t mean you need to be giddy about getting constructive criticism—but take it in objectively. Look for the truth in the feedback so you can use it to improve.

Cultivate Gratitude

Negative feedback won’t always come from a good place. Let’s say you and your coworker are walking into a meeting when he mentions that your poor leadership is the reason the team missed its deadline. Chances are, he’s not making that comment out of the goodness of his heart.

However, since you’ve committed to objectively analyzing constructive criticism and recognizing when it’s accurate, you should be able to tell when people are delivering it because they genuinely want to help.

When that’s the case, strive to be grateful. After all, telling someone where he or she has gone wrong is almost as unpleasant as hearing it. Your boss, colleague, or subordinate is doing something they’d rather not—for your sake.

Make a Plan

Having a plan will make you feel more confident or in control. Depending on what the feedback was, you can make a highly detailed plan or simply a short mental promise.

Imagine your coworker saying, “I’ve noticed you make a lot of impromptu decisions without consulting me or anyone else. This lack of communication really hurts our unity and ability to act in tandem.”

After some neutral reflection, you realize your coworker absolutely has a point. So, you decide to check in with your team once a day so they’re up-to-date on any pending decisions (and can weigh in).

Coming up with a concrete solution will not only bolster your confidence, it’ll also help you implement the feedback.

About the Author

Aja Frost is a freelance writer specializing in business, tech, career advice, and productivity. Check out her website or say hi on Twitter.