It's Not Personal, It's Business: Accepting Constructive Criticism

If there was one thing we all hated in school, it was group projects. At the root of this disdain was the fact that we were forced to constantly work through issues with other human beings and couldn’t just solve the assigned project alone. We had to think outside our own bubble. Upon graduation and entering the professional world, you quickly realize that your job is just one continual group project that never ends, and our teachers weren’t wrong to try and prepare us.

An integral part of these professional relationships is the ability to both give and receive constructive criticism. These are two sides of a coin that, if done correctly, allow you to flourish as a professional and a leader. Both are easier said than done. So, let’s go over a few tips:


Our initial reaction is always going to be one of self-preservation. No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong, especially when it’s something into which they feel they’ve poured a lot of time and effort. Ignore your first reaction to get defensive. Truly listen to everything they have to say (there’s a difference in actually listening and letting them talk while you come up with your rebuttal in your head). Try to get in their head and see things from their point to view.


Deconstruct the issue – don’t debate. There may be an appropriate time later for debate. Your initial goal should be investigative in nature. Get to the bottom of the issue--ask for specific examples and proposed solutions. No one successfully climbs the ladder without constructive criticism along the way. It hard to see while you’re in the midst of something uncomfortable, but feedback is healthy as long as you approach it and handle it correctly.


Once we have time to reflect on the criticism we receive, we often realize those offering the critique were right or at least more clearly see where they were coming from. This is why it is so important to pause and avoid flying off the handle in these situations. Reflecting and decompressing is also important in order to put things into perspective. We need to take time to remind ourselves that a criticism is not necessarily personal and to use it as an opportunity to grow.


No matter what conclusion you reach, a follow up meeting or email is always in order. Whether it’s to clarify an issue they addressed, inform them how you plan to make corrections and adjustments, or just thanking them for their time and criticism (Yes! Thanking someone for their constructive criticism is important!), make an effort to let them know their critique was not lost on deaf ears.

Accepting criticism and learning from it is almost always going to be difficult, but successful careers depend on it. Next week on the blog, we’ll discuss best practices in giving constructive criticism. In the meantime, for more information on receiving criticism, click here or here.