Accepting Criticism Assertively

On Being Criticised

No one likes being criticised. Yet if we’re to continue to develop it’s important to hear what people don’t like as well as what they do. If we want to improve sometimes we have to hear it all. And in the world of work receiving criticism gracefully can be an essential skill in getting ahead.


Listening to criticism isn’t easy but try and stop yourself automatically rebutting whatever is being said. It may be unjust and wrong, but let the other person say what they need to say. This can demonstrate a level of self confidence and is acknowledging the other person’s rights in this situation, whoever they are. So, keep your lips firmly closed and listen to what they are saying.


Having heard them out, make sure that you have understood before you respond. Paraphrase what you think they are saying. Ask them questions to confirm your understanding. If they are getting a bit heated and personal try not to rise to it, but calmly say:

 ‘I appreciate you are upset/angry/annoyed etc. However, please try and tell me what concerns you without getting abusive. What is it that I have done/not done that is causing the problem?’

Ask them to be specific, especially if they are resorting to wild generalisations.

They have a right to say what they feel but not at the expense of your rights. You have a right to be treated respectfully. It’s a two way process.


You don’t always have to respond immediately. If the criticism is of a piece of your work, such as a report, say you will look at it again in the light of what they have said and then respond. If they have been very personal, rather than respond while you are still smarting, you might say:

 ‘I’m feeling a little upset at the moment and will talk to you about this later’.

Try not to get into recriminations of the ‘Well, your report writing isn’t so hot either!’ variety. It won’t really help and won’t get you any further advanced.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

It can be helpful to you if you take a few moments to acknowledge how you feel. Is the criticism tapping into something else in your sub conscious? Maybe their words have awakened previous hurts, or are an echo of how significant people in your life have talked to you?

Be careful to respond as the adult as you are now, not the child you might have been when first given that criticism. For example, your boss says ‘I don’t like the conclusion of this report’ and you hear a teacher’s voice ‘ You’ll never amount to anything, stupid child!‘. Be as honest with yourself about your feelings as you can.

Are They Right?

This is probably the most difficult part of receiving criticism but, ask yourself, do they have a point? Are they correct? Was I too impatient with that colleague? Did I rush that last piece of work? Is it sub standard? If they do have a point, it’s a very adult and professional approach to take this on the chin and say, yes, they are right.

If they are not, then make clear that you do not dispute their right to make a critical comment, but you do not agree with what they have said because….and state your case.


Posted on April 2nd, 2009 by

6 Responses to “Accepting Criticism Assertively”

  1. I agree with all of the above, especially acknlowledging your feelings. You can’t move forward until you’ve dealt with that bit. I’ve found it’s helpful to sit for a while and really concentrate on how I’m feeling then pick myself up and say ‘right ok, what next?’

  2. Jane says:

    Thanks Sheena, that approach is why you are so good at your job – continual evaluation and improvement!

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  4. Jane says:

    Thank you! I hope you continue to enjoy it and I shall look forward to your comments. Jane

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  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sharon Cannon. Sharon Cannon said: RT @pattyharms: Great post re: accepting criticism assertively. #feedback […]

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