Receiving Criticism Doesn't Have to be Painful

Blame evolution.

Our brains are hardwired for a fight or flight response when our stress level increases — and few things are more stressful than being criticized.

As humans, we view criticism as a threat to our survival. We go into that space where immediately we want to panic and leave or defend ourselves. Neither of those is a great response to criticism in the workplace.

Because our emotions run high when we’re on the receiving end of criticism, it’s hard for us to hear and recall what was said. We remember the feeling around it, but the words and directions may be difficult to remember accurately.

Here are a few tips to get through criticism with grace and poise, and move on from it in a confident and productive manner.

Grab a notebook. Taking notes as you receive criticism will help in several ways. Writing down what was said will help you accurately and more objectively recall the message later on. It will also give you something to hold onto and do, and that focus can tamper your emotions.

Ask for some time. Take a breath. Don’t panic and try to fill every natural silence.

Don’t play defense. If you find yourself saying phrases like, “Well, there’s no way I could have…” or “She never…” — stop! The moment you’re receiving criticism is not the time to get defensive.

Instead, listen carefully, take notes, and let the other person finish completely. Thank them for their feedback. It’s no easier to give criticism than it is to receive it, so acknowledge the courage it took for that person to give it.

Follow up. When you’ve had a few minutes (or a few hours) to process the criticism and calm down from the stress, request a meeting with your boss to review, reassess, explain, and make plans to move forward. This doesn’t have to be immediate, but it should be within a few days.

Cultivate a growth mindset. You’re receiving criticism because your boss or higher-ups want you to improve and grow as a professional. If you think about it, your goals and theirs are aligned around your professional growth and development. Take criticism as an opportunity to learn.

Avoid surprises. It’s not pleasant to think everything was “hunky dory” (or just fine) and be blindsided when you find out things weren’t so good after all. You can avoid the unpleasant surprise by asking for feedback on your work frequently. That will provide your colleagues and bosses with opportunities to provide corrective advice you can carry forward with you.