How to Deal with Negative Feedback at Work

People will always have something to say. Even when you actively put in your efforts at work, you can still be doing something wrong in other people’s eyes. Negative feedback at work is never easy, whether your critic is your co-worker, boss, or somebody else in the company. That said, there’s a lesson to learn from criticism, good or bad, as long as you are willing to find it. The way you handle critique can help you rise above the crowd, and dealing with it proactively can change your critic’s perception of you for the better. Here are the dos and don’ts of reacting to negative feedback at work.



There’s no question that you need to listen carefully to criticisms about you, whether or not the information is something you like to hear. Naturally, when you listen, you need to open your ears and close your mouth. When being given a critique, do not interrupt the speaker, and when he or she is done, repeat back what you heard to make sure you fully understand what was said. Once you know what you’re being criticized about, ask yourself:

• Is the information factual and accurate?

• Am I reacting to the message or the messenger?

• Could this criticism be valuable to me?

Learning how to ask for feedback at work and how to extract value from positive or negative feedback on my work without dismissing it outright or crawling into a shell can prove important not only to your professional life but your personal life as well.

…Take it with a grain of salt

It’s easy to assume any form of criticism as a personal attack—don’t make that mistake. You need to look at the words objectively. Take it as an opportunity for you to see yourself in another context that can be enlightening, especially if the criticism is honest. And honesty is a tool that can help you react to negative feedback in a positive and empowering way - you will get feedback that works. It can lead you toward the path of better self-awareness and remind you that your words and actions do not exist in isolation.

…Ask for time to respond

Unless the negative feedback needs to be responded to immediately, you must ask for time to take in what was said. Doing this offers a two-fold benefit: first, it prevents an otherwise tense situation from escalating, and second, it lets the other person know that you value their feedback enough to process it calmly and carefully. Also, asking for time gives you a chance to validate the criticism.

…Process what was said

Now it’s time to process the feedback and get to the bottom of the issues being raised. Ask for specific examples to help you understand their concerns. Identify whether their issue with you is an isolated case or an unintentional negative habit. Finally, you must develop possible solutions to address them. Channel that criticism for your personal and emotional growth, and use it to improve your performance at work as well as relationships with colleagues.


…Get Defensive

When you hear something negative about you, your national reaction would be to get defensive. When you start to feel sensitive, before you react, think about how your response would come off. If you think it will make you appear immature and reckless, try your best to control it as best you can. Avoid placing blame on others or giving excuses. Instead, show that you take responsibility for your actions and their consequences.

…Be Impulsive

Even if your anger is justified, you need to keep your emotions in check. Take a deep breath and pause for a moment before responding. Say something like, “I would like to give myself some time to think about what you said,” and then add, “Can I get back to you?” It can help to give a specific schedule on when you would like the next discussion to take place, as this will demonstrate that you take the feedback seriously and are willing to do something about it.


Once you begin apologizing profusely, you could soon find yourself on the defensive. If you must say sorry, say it once, sincerely and maturely. You don’t have to keep doing it, as it can only make the interaction more awkward than it already is. It may be completely unnecessary to give an apology, depending on the situation.

…Let It Bring You Down

Just as you need time to process the criticism, you should also commit to letting the negative emotions go. Remember that your professional life is only one aspect of your personality, and a critique of your performance and attitude at work does not reflect your value as a person. Focus on the positive, avoid engaging in destructive behavior, and take a proactive approach to deal with your issues.

...Accept Harmful Criticism

Not all criticism is constructive. Sometimes, it can come from someone who wants to undermine you out of spite or jealousy. There are times when you have to accept working feedback, and there are times when you have to fight back. If the criticism comes from a bad place, make a stand call out the person for the baseless attack. The goal is not to become argumentative—remember that it is not in your best interest to get defensive. Once the other person has said everything intended, prove your point in a calmly and carefully. It will be difficult, but it must be done, especially if your career and reputation are on the line.

You can’t control what people say to you, but you can control how you accept it, respond it, learn from it, and move on from it. If you know that you have a hard time dealing with negative feedback, it may help to remember the tips above.

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