How to Handle Unfair Criticism

Everyone receives unfair criticism in the workplace once in a while, either from a boss or a colleague. Being subjected to such criticism can be a very painful experience. How you handle it can have a significant effect on your career. So, how do you deal with unfair criticism in the workplace?

1. Stay calm

When criticized unfairly, your first instinct would be to fight back or vent your anger. However, it is very important to remain calm in the face of such criticism. Giving full expression to your emotions will only make things worse and give your critic an advantage. Therefore, when the hammer drops, pause and take a few deep breaths.

2. Get the point repeated

Avoid the temptation of giving a response immediately the criticism is voiced. Instead, take time to be sure you’ve understood exactly what has been said. Look at the critic in the eye and ask ‘So, what you are saying is…..’? Once you have ascertained the issue, you can then offer an appropriate response. However, don’t exaggerate the issue since this will only make you appear defensive.

3. Examine both perspectives

After establishing what the issue is, you can then have a proper discussion with the critic. Be sure to examine it from both perspectives. For instance, saying ‘I know where you are coming from’ shows the critic that you respect his opinion on the matter. Saying ‘From my perspective,…..’ allows you to share your own thoughts. Looking at the critique from both perspectives can be a very effective way of resolving the issue.

4. Move on gracefully

Once you’ve clarified the critic’s point and done your best to examine the issue from both perspectives, it is time to move on. Don’t waste your time trying to prove a point to a critic. Instead, thank them for sharing their opinion and make a polite exit. Say something like ‘Thank you for the feedback. I’ll keep your sentiments in mind moving forward’.  

How to respond to a critical co-worker

Your response to criticism will depend on whether the source is a superior or colleague. If it is a co-worker, have a meeting and listen to what they have to say. In case their allegations are true, take responsibility and make amends. However, if you feel they are wrong, take a stand and defend yourself. If things get out of hand, it would be advisable to involve a superior. However, avoid the temptation of attacking the other person and stick to the issue.

Responding to the boss

When the critic is your boss, the situation becomes a bit complicated. If their criticism is valid, accept it and take the appropriate action. However, if the criticism is not justified, you can request for a meeting to argue your case. To avoid undermining your position, be sure to discuss the issue rationally and calmly. If you cannot agree on the way forward, you could consider escalating the issue to a higher authority.

You should not allow unfair criticism to damage your self-confidence or self-esteem. Realize that criticism exposes shortcomings in the critic and not you. After doing your best to address the issue, forget about it and move on.


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