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How to Constructively Give and Take Criticism in the Workplace

Criticism is like a mirror: you might not like what you see, but the best way to handle it is to find how it can be improved. According to author Henry Evans, criticism can be beneficial if dealt with properly. The opposite is also true: if negative feedback is handled badly, it can cause dysfunction in the workplace.

Here are effective ways of handling office situations, whether you’re the one pointing out something to be improved, or the one taking the constructive criticism:

  1. Don’t let what should have been a simple criticism build up until it negatively accumulates and explodes. If you’re in the position to confront an offending behaviour, handle it immediately and tactfully. Speak to the offender privately, as this encourages positive response. If confrontation occurs with other people around, the offender tends to be defensive and may deliberately show defiance.
  2. Don’t emphasize the person’s character or behaviour. Instead, focus the discussion on company or department goals, the person’s roles, and the procedures involved. If there is need to mention inappropriate behaviour, make sure this links with the three focus areas. Involve the offending person to actively take part in fixing the problem. Ask, “How do you solve this situation?” This way, the person becomes involved in a constructive way.
  3. Keep the feedback mechanism turned on all the time. Feedback shouldn’t be saved for year-end. Feedback must be given and taken all year. Employees work better if there is constant feedback. It must be a normal part of performance evaluation, not an emotional release when the boss is fed up.
  4. If you’re the subject of constructive criticism, really listen before you react. It’s easy to fight back; that’s generally your immediate reaction. People also tend to become emotional because  constructive criticism often feels like a personal attack. However, if you bring your thoughts back to the context of the real criticism, the organization, that can reduce the intensity a little. Allow yourself to think about it, and ask to talk about the issue further at another time. Both sides will then have had time away to really think about the issue, and be able to come back and work on a constructive resolution that is fair and honest.
  5. Ask questions when appropriate. Asking questions sheds light on many things for all parties involved. It’s also a venue for you to explain your side.

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If the criticism is valid, it’s always in order to apologize. Constructive criticism is about noticing what is incorrect and fixing it. If seen from that perspective, it becomes less difficult to deal with.

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