Responding to Criticism

What you will learn to do: Write a response to criticism.

There will always be criticism to deal with in the workplace. How would you respond to criticism in a professional manner? How can you keep feelings of frustration with others or with a workplace situation from affecting your professional demeanor? We will explore how to respond to criticism in a professional manner in this section.

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss key points to a professional response to criticism
  • Discuss ways to remain professional when you’re feeling frustrated with others or a situation
  • Write a short message responding to internal or external criticism
  • Write a long message responding to internal or external criticism

How Do You Respond to Criticism?

How you respond to correction, criticism, and negative feedback demonstrates who you are. Focus on your response. Learn how to take it gracefully. Receiving correction is pivotal to your development.

Positive Responses

  1. Gratitude. Avoid extremes: don’t get gushy or pretend it doesn’t hurt. Just say thanks for your feedback.
  2. Questions. Avoid statements until you’ve asked clarifying questions.
  3. Restatements. “I hear you saying…”
  4. Request for solutions. Ask for suggested solutions. Simple is essential; one or two is enough.
  5. Happiness. Do corrective behaviors make sense and feel good? If the path forward isn’t inviting, you’ll avoid it.
  6. Follow-up. Ask for a check-in meeting in two weeks for a progress report. Four weeks is too long. If your behaviors elicit negative feedback, solve them quickly.
  7. Gratitude again.

Time

No response is better than over-reaction. Correction is tough to hear. Listen, and if necessary, ask for some time to think it over. Be honest. “This is hard to hear. Could I have an hour to digest your feedback?”

Transparency

Include those who were impacted by negative behaviors. Explain what you’re working on and corrective actions. You go further when others know where you’re going. In a few days, ask them how you’re doing.

Open up don’t push away.

Drop it and move on.

Ask for affirmation when you achieved goals. Reject nitpicking. Move on.

Responding well to negative feedback, toughens character, increases influence, and strengthens connections.

According to communications expert Jack Griffin, there is a six step process that you can use to respond to negative feedback in a constructive manner. Here are excerpts from his guidelines.[1]

Step 1: Accept criticism as an opportunity. All criticism, even unmerited criticism is useful to you. Criticism, after all, may actually point out things that you are doing ineffectively or poorly—things you could do better.

Step 2: Fight the impulse to respond defensively. Listen and learn.

Step 3: Realize that the criticism is a perception, nothing more.

Step 4: Do not meekly accept unjust or unfounded criticism, but don’t reject it. Learn from it.  Learn about creating more positive impressions.

Step 5: Seize the opportunity to respond to criticism, to communicate in a way that can strengthen and enhance your relationship with your boss.

Step 6: While listening to criticism, demonstrate that you are hearing the criticism.

PRACTICE QUESTIONS

Negative Responses

Of course, while there are a variety of good ways to respond, there are poor or unproductive ways to respond to criticism. Here are examples of how not to respond.

  1. “It’s your fault too.”
  2. Making it personal.
  3. Standing aloof
  4. Minimizing.
  5. Arguing.
  6. Feeling attacked.
  7. Finger pointing.
  8. Excuse making.
  9. Denial.
  10. “I’ll never be good enough.”

Negative responses to negative feedback delay growth, destroy progress, and lose respect.

Remaining Professional When You’re Frustrated

Behaving in a professional manner is a key to success in the workplace. Maintaining that demeanor, even in stressful times, can be a challenge. What does it mean to be “professional” at work? The definition varies, but usually includes possessing knowledge and expertise, being in a positive mood, meeting your obligations accurately and on time, respecting all with whom you interact, using proper language, operating ethically, having social and emotional intelligence and maintaining an appropriate appearance. Other terms describing professional conduct in the workplace are soft skills, protocol, business etiquette and polish.

Here is a video with some good advice on professional work characteristics:

At one point or another, we have all been subjected to negative circumstances and situations in the workplace that can test the patience of even the most professional of us. We are human beings. Our professional demeanor can temporarily be dented—engaging fight or flight mode, berating yourself, and lacking clear thinking can occur. The key is to rely on our emotional intelligence to gauge our thoughts and actions during these trying times.

Here are some techniques that can help you deal with emotional reactions to negative situations at work.

  1. Acceptance. It is normal to get mad when things go awry. Our brains are hard-wired to react in certain ways. It is best to step back and acknowledge that your emotions are normal so that you can move on to problem solving.
  2. Displacement. While you are experiencing a range of emotions that you may not initially control, it may be best for a change of scenery. Get up from your desk, walk out of your office and take some deep breaths outside. Imagine how you would like to see yourself react while you calm down.
  3. Articulation. Once you have spent some time thinking things through, it may be time to talk it out with the source of the issue. Remember your basic communication skills: Remember who you are communicating with and what will be effective in reaching them with your point.
  4. Improvement. After recognizing and dealing with your feelings, it is time to understand the true source of the issue so it can be solved going forward. So you were called out on some errors made in your analysis, but you know that you were not given adequate notice to properly prepare the report and double-check it. Address this with your manager and request an appropriate process in the future to allow for more careful work.[2]

PRACTICE QUESTIONS

Short Responses to Criticism

In today’s business world, your professional demeanor is not limited to your physical workplace. Your online presence is an extension of you and also must convey all of the characteristics we have discussed in the last section. Given the amount of cyber-bullying and just plain rudeness we all see online, it is even more challenging to maintain your professionalism when responding to an external critical message on social media.

Here are seven tips from Caron Beesley in her article “7 Tips for Dealing With Criticism of Your Business on Social Media“:[3]

  1. Get Listening
  2. Should You Respond?
  3. Don’t Let Negative Comments Linger
  4. Always Acknowledge, Never Deny
  5. How to Apologize
  6. Take the Conversation Offline
  7. The Bottom Line

Using these guidelines, you can easily craft a short response like the following examples:

Thanks for your feedback! We’ll take a look at the issue and get back to you within a week.
We are so sorry for your negative experience with our product. We’ve sent this issue to our customer support team, and they should be reaching out to you within the next day to resolve the problem.

Of course, if you promise to get back to someone, you need to remember to do so; however, these responses both show your willingness to hear complaints and follow tip number 6: take the conversation offline. By doing this, you can have a much more interesting and productive conversation with the person who is making the critique.

In addition to these guidelines, keeping things light and somewhat tongue-in-cheek can also be effective for a short message response.

Wendy’s on Twitter

Wendy’s Twitter has a bit of a reputation for being irreverent and “savage” (just check out this article from Market Watch). While this brand of humor has gained Wendy’s quite a bit of positive attention, some people argue that Wendy’s is making outdated jokes, and simply trying to appeal to its audience by trying to be current. In response to this broad criticism, Wendy’s tweeted the following:

In this tweet, Wendy’s largely agreed with the comments that their Twitter account is a marketing move, but they were able to make a joke out of the interaction and maintain the tone of their Twitter presence.

PRACTICE QUESTIONS

Long Responses to Criticism

Complicated workplace situations may require more extensive communication when criticism is involved. Remember that receiving criticism at work is normal. Whether it is coming from a co-worker or your manager, it is important to keep your emotions under control and be professional and even graceful despite how you may feel about the criticism.

If you are on the receiving end of internal criticism that requires a written response, it should be comprehensive in order to be effective. Some recommended guidelines would include the following:

  1. Solicit all of the facts of the matter. Do not be afraid to ask for all the details.
  2. Acknowledge what is stated and paraphrase in non-offensive words.
  3. Agree if the criticism is true. Apologize if necessary. Explain how the critical remarks will affect your behavior and actions in the future.
  4. Disagree if the criticism is not accurate. Be respectful and constructive in your response.
  5. Think about finding a compromise position that will alleviate future concerns.

Here is an example of a response to internal criticism from a co-worker:

To: Chris Smith

From: Mike Hines

Subject: Your message regarding Dean Herzog

 

Dear Chris,

 

I received your message regarding Dean’s participation at the regional conference last week. Your note was quite critical about his presentation being cut short in relation to the others. I realize that Dean is an important member of your team and was representing you and the rest of your team who could not attend the conference.

 

Let me begin by apologizing for the situation. Dean was the last scheduled speaker, and many of the earlier activities on the agenda ran over their allotted time. We did our best to keep everything on schedule, but many attendees came back late from lunch and really set us back on Friday.

 

I sent Dean a note apologizing to him directly. In the future, we will be more realistic about how much we can pack into a day of a regional conference and leave some extra time at the end for presentations that would be cut short due to schedule issues.

 

Best regards,

 

Mike

PRACTICE QUESTIONS


  1. Jack Griffin, “How To Say It At Work”, 1998.
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/melodywilding/2016/06/01/5-ways-to-stay-cool-when-work-is-making-you-angry/#3520ef557865
  3. Beesley, Caron. "7 Tips for Dealing With Criticism of Your Business on Social Media." SBA Blogs: Managing a Business. 11 Oct 2012. Web. 10 July 2018.