7 Principles for How to Handle Criticism at Work

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Discover 7 Ways to Better Handle Criticism in the Workplace

As a worker, you can be sure you will always be subjected to criticism. Everything has a price tag, and that price tag is criticism. It comes with the territory, consequently, you need to be able to learn how to handle criticism. You will encounter criticism merely by the position you hold.

According to Amanda Polanski of Mcessay, we must assume that there will always be personal attacks on honour, character and decisions making capabilities. There will be times when people are jealous of the position you hold. There will be times when you have to tell your people how it is, and that’s going to bring criticism. Also, there will be times when people won’t be pleased with the decisions you’ve made. Times when you promote someone, but at the same time, you’re making enemies.

Sometimes they will envy you, so you need to be mindful of these feelings toward you to react properly.

You need to be prepared for this. How you’re going to handle criticism is going to make or break you as a worker. It is how you will allow it to affect you that will make the difference whether or not you’re successful in the end.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’

Here’s what you need to know about yourself: You need to understand the reality of the situation and confront it with certainty, because sometimes other people’s criticism will be valid, and sometimes it won’t. So how does one overcome criticism?

7 Ways to Deal With Criticism

Let me share with you seven principles to help you handle criticism at work:

1. Most Of The Time, Ignore It

If the criticism is of a petty or insignificant nature, don’t retaliate. Let it go. Don’t read too much into the criticism, because some people are just looking for a fight, and when you don’t respond to their annoying words, they often back off. But if the situation carries on, be sure to confront the issue.

Abraham Lincoln once remarked:

‘I have found that it is not entirely safe when one is misrepresented under his very nose, to allow the misrepresentation to go uncontradicted‘.

In other words, you must ignore most of the attacks on you if they are petty or insignificant. Fight back when they are essential and significant enough to make a difference.

2. Write A Letter To Yourself About How You Feel

May I say, this is one of the most productive ways of handling unkind criticism. In order for you to find expression for your anger and frustration, write a letter to yourself about how you feel, and then tear it up and throw it away.

Lady writing a letter to express her emotions while looking at a laptop
Try expressing your emotions in a letter rather than engaging the person who criticised you


I assure you, you will always feel better after having stated your case and expressing your emotions on paper. The key here is to never send it to the person who actually criticised you. In other words, don’t make that letter public. This will help you not to fight back and perhaps lose your dignity and respect in the process.

3. Have Confidence In Your Ability To Know Right From Wrong

This gives you the strength to know when to fight back, and when to let things go. Know the truth and the truth will set you free. Don’t let criticism stop you from making those hard and difficult decisions.

A good friend of mine Justin Thomas from Discovery Health said to me, ”I’ll rather be criticised for taking action, than being criticised for taking no action’. I like that. Remember, the turtle only makes progress when he sticks his neck out. Take action on the truth.

4. Listen To The Middle Eighty Percent

A great way to handle criticism is to remember to consider the source. Many people will say many things about you. Here’s a method to filter out what you need to let go, and what you need to respond to.

Serious businessman taking criticism from colleague
The source of the criticism will determine if it’s important or not


Bill Gove once said:

In any audience, ignore the ten percent who think you walk on water and the ten percent who think you are no good at all. Then listen to the middle eighty percent’.

I think that’s good advice for any leader. In other words, don’t take to heart everything everybody says about you. See where it comes from, and then make your decision to react or not.

5. Teach Your People How To Treat You

Give your people feedback on the best time and the best possible way to give you criticism, Why? Because people learn how to treat you, the way you teach them how to treat you. It is your job to communicate to your people that you will respond better to their criticism if you can receive it in a different way and at predetermined times.

This way your people know there are times that criticism just doesn’t fit the situation. They know their time of speaking up will be given to them at the appropriate time in the near future.

6. Laugh At Yourself On Occasion

Og Mandino once made this comment:

‘Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come.’

I think life is too serious most of the time. Try and find the humour in a potentially dangerous situation. In other words, you need to know what the reality of the matter is, and then deal with it accordingly. Try and look at the lighter side of life by keeping your sense of humour.

Woman on green sofa laughing
Learn to laugh and not take everything so seriously


7. Accept And Act Only On Valid And Constructive Criticism

Sometimes there is an element of truth in the criticism, thus, being able to handle it is character building. It means you must have a teachable spirit. It means you must have the guts and the ability to change when it matters the most. Sarah Grand said, ‘Our opinion of people depends less upon what we see in them than upon what they make us see in ourselves’. If what they are saying about you is true, mend your ways. If it isn’t true, forget it, and go on.

Sometimes though when that criticism comes from someone whom you love and respect, you need to evaluate what they said and why they said it. This is the first step toward your success in the future. In other words, at the end of the day, you need to playback the tape of your performance.  The results should either approve you or nudge you to change something. Being willing to listen and change will make you a more able worker. Denis Waitley said, ‘There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.’ Successful leaders always keep moving. Remember: The critic is soon forgotten, but the person of action is always remembered.

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Conflict Resolution SkillsConflict Resolution TipsManaging Conflict in the WorkplaceNegative Feedback Articles and Content

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