Tips for Handling Criticism

Leaders in any type of organization usually seek some sort of feedback from the audience they serve. Seeking customer comments are a part of normal business. This feedback often helps us to make needed adjustments that improve services.

Asking for Feedback

Asking for Feedback

These comments usually come to us by phone, email, letters or they just walk right into our offices. They can be like bolts of lighting and most are usually very difficult to handle.  Anytime you get someone asking for the manager, you usually assume they are going to be negative. Either way, positive or negative, they tend to get our full attention.  These contacts tend to fall into two camps – negative and constructive criticism.

You can’t be in any business very long before they reach your desk. So how should we handle these opportunities?

First – we must seek to understand what type of criticism they are sharing. Most of the feedback usually has a purpose or a goal.

Negative Criticism Definition: “Negative criticism is unjustified when it results from the wrong motive. Psychologist and author Henry C. Link says, “If you wish to make enemies, tell people simply, ‘You are wrong’. This method works every time.” If they cannot explain why you’re wrong, their motive is likely destructive, not constructive.” Source:

Here are common characteristics of negative criticism:

  • They simply want to express their frustration on a mistake or bad services.
  • They want management to know that they have been mistreated
  • The person wants to teach you the right way to handle this issue. This approach talks down to you like you are stupid for allowing this to happen.
  • The person wants to demand a specific action to correct the problem.
  • Negative criticism is only focused on making sure you understand the problem. They don’t think you have the ability to understand it on your own.
  • Negative criticism usually can be delivered in a very disrespectful tone or even angry and offensive attitude.

In many cases, it is normal to want to give it right back when you are falsely accused or you feel they are attacking you personally.   I had a complaint one time that called my office because I was the next supervisor in the chain of command. His first question once I got on the phone was to ask me the name of my boss and their contact number.  His goal was put me on the defensive before he even told me the natural of the problem.

So how can we spot when we are getting the other type called constructive criticism?

Constructive comments reinforce good behavior or motivate us to make positive changes. Comedian Milton Berle was dining with his wife when a waiter put too much pepper on her salad. Mrs. Berle tasted it and offered a constructive criticism “Needs more salad.” Source:

It usually is given from someone we already know well or have an important relationship. This type of feedback is usually given out of concern or simply wanting to help you avoid making a mistake. Here are some key characteristics:

  • The advice is given with the intentions to help you avoid a big mistake.
  • Helpful criticism always has full understanding of the situation and offers insightful suggestions.
  • A constructive criticism is usually delivered in private to avoid any additional public attention.
  • A helpful critic helps you to sort out better options to the problem or challenge.
  • The helpful critic focuses on the decision or process and doesn’t attack you as a person.
  • And finally, they share their honest opinion and not just what you want to hear. This builds greater trust even if you don’t agree with the feedback.

Finding the true motive early in the conversation will save you a lot of grief. It is always wise to stick to the facts when responding.  The ability to find trusted feedback will equip you with the necessary balance to make tough decisions. There are always two sides to every situation. I would encourage you to seek the facts from both sides before making a final judgment call.  It is easy for people to share a complaint. Criticisms are great opportunities to gain creditability if we handle them well.

Are you ready to handle the next round of criticism? GTR

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2 thoughts on “Tips for Handling Criticism

  1. Thanks for sharing this Mr Ray. I like the concluding framework that “finding the true motive early in the conversation will save you a lot of grief.” The framework is concrete and it sounds executable. Like discernment, it’s not a hot knife in butter; since there’s a higher propensity to gravitate toward a defensive response. However, one can treat oneself to a deliberate practice of the motive extraction framework… which over a period of time may become one’s involuntary mode of response.
    And YES, I’m ready to experiment with the next round of criticism watch out world … Tim Falade

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