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Dealing With Unfair Criticism

Tags:  Communication Skills, Management, Job stress, Co-Workers, Constructive criticism

Constructive criticism or feedback is only helpful if it is a legitimate attempt to provide information that is meant to offer insight that will improve or better someone. Intentionally finding fault or reacting out of frustration or anger to a difficult situation helps no one.


Regardless of the intent, criticism, especially if it seems unjustified, can be painful and cause a defensive reaction. That's why it is up to you as a professional to recognize that sometimes coworkers over react to situations or crack in high-pressure work environments and ultimately say things they shouldn't.


Not to fear. You have it within your ability to handle the situation in a cool, calm manner by not counter attacking. Instead follow these Guideposts:


Stay neutral; summarize other person's perspective first


Your first reaction may be to defend yourself. However, ultimately that could just result in a yelling match between you and the other person.


Instead, step back and try to understand their perspective. Listen carefully, paraphrase what they are saying and ask probing questions to make sure you understand their concerns and point of view.


Once you are clear as to why the other person is upset, summarize what you understand to be their concerns to ensure there is a mutual understanding.


2. Restate intentions/actions; check understanding


Now is not the time to become defensive or try to justify your actions.  Instead make sure that you are clear as to where the problem lies then clarify your intent or restate the original commitment to which you both agreed.


You may find the problem is simply a difference in perception or understanding as to the intended method of work or ultimate outcome. And that it can easily be corrected once you explain your intentions.


Be patient and give the other person time to absorb what you have said. Their anger may interfere with their ability to understand your point of view.

3. Agree on ways to avoid future problems

Once the two of you have figured out where the miscommunication is, it's time to build in safeguards to avoid this type of problem again. Be sure to discuss ideas and possible solutions openly in order to come to some agreement as to how these kinds of issues can be circumvented in the future.


Very often unfair criticism comes from a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication that can – with a little time, patience and professionalism -- be easily handled.


For more information on this topic, see the companion Skills in Action video!

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