How to handle constructive criticism from your boss like a champ

Constructive criticism can be hard to hear—and even harder to react to the right way. In fact, 1 in 4 employees say they dread performance reviews more than anything else in their working lives, according to the Harvard Business Review.

As much as we’d like to think that we’d respond to negative feedback in a calm and productive manner, constructive criticism can often feel like a personal attack, ultimately clouding our judgment and eliciting a defensive response.

Douglas Stone, co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback,” told The Wall Street Journal that we react poorly to criticism—everything from crying to walking out—because of three reasons:

  • The criticism may seem wrong or unfair;
  • The listener may dislike or disrespect the person giving it;
  • Or the feedback may rock the listener’s sense of identity or security.

A big step in the right direction is understanding that criticism from management shouldn’t be taken as a personal attack, but rather, as an opportunity for growth.

For your personal development, career success—and yes, your sanity—here’s how you can take constructive feedback like a champ.


In the heat of the moment, listening is easier said than done—yet, listening is critical.

Don’t interrupt your boss and don’t tune out what is being said. Taking notes is a great way to discipline yourself from responding too soon.

React slowly and carefully

Although you may feel attacked, angry and frustrated, it’s never a good idea to immediately react to criticism. Take a deep breath, reflect on the feedback for a few seconds, do a quick self check-in and then proceed with caution.

If you feel as though you can professionally continue the conversation, move at a snail’s pace ensuring you give yourself a few seconds of “think time” before each sentence.

If you realize you are too emotional to move forward with the talk, let your boss know you appreciate the feedback and will circle back with them after you compose yourself and digest the information.

Be involved

Ask questions, offer solutions and request a follow-up meeting. These actions will show your boss you have initiative and are committed to improving upon your weaknesses.

In order to learn from criticism, The Advisory Board Company suggests, “employees should ask their managers ‘what’ questions, such as, ‘What evidence did you see?’ instead of ‘why’ questions, such as, ‘Why are you saying that?’ The ‘why’ questions tend to create resentment.”

Own it

If you made a mistake or need to improve in an area, take responsibility for your actions. Don’t make the mistake of pointing fingers at others or coming up with excuses as to why you aren’t meeting expectations.

A response every manager wants to hear is, “You’re right. This is an area I need to improve upon. I understand your concerns and I will do everything I can to make progress in this area.”

These actions will show your boss you have initiative and are committed to improving upon your weaknesses.

Show gratitude

Just like constructive feedback is hard to take; it’s hard to give.

Be sure to thank your manager right then and there for finding the time and courage to have a candid conversation with you.

Danielle Clark is a human resources manager with more than 10 years of HR and customer service experience in healthcare and retail organizations. Her work with Fortune 500 companies, in addition to a diverse professional and academic background, has trained Clark to be results-driven, people-focused and a thought-provoking leader. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. She is also an adjunct professor, active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.

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