No Pouting: 7 Polite Ways to Handle Criticism

By Barbara Pachter

As you advance in your career you are bound to get feedback on your work. No doubt you will hear a lot of positive comments, but you also are likely to hear negative ones. This is normal – no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Yet how you receive this feedback is important to your career.

Follow these 7 steps so you handle criticism professionally:
  1. Don’t get defensive. You want to be open to the other person’s comments. Make sure you look at the person, and don’t frown, pout or cross your arms. It is easy to think the person criticizing your work is a jerk, and brush aside the comments. If you do this, you may miss the opportunity to learn from the feedback.

  2. Listen attentively. As hard as it may be, do not interrupt. You don’t want to cut short the comments. You really have to hear what the person has to say.

  3. Ask for clarification. If the person is not specific, you can ask him or her to explain the comments. Responses like, “What exactly do you mean by unprofessional?” or “Why did you say the report was terrible?” can help you gain information, and also buy you some time to calm down and collect your thoughts.

  4. Explain what happened. Do not make excuses. However, if there were reasons for the difficulty that truly were beyond your control, calmly give the details.

  5. If you did mess up, accept responsibility. Saying, “You’re right. It won’t happen again” can help to defuse a negative situation. You also may want to let the person know what you will do differently in the future.

  6. Ask for more. Before the conversation is over, ask for more feedback. Saying, “Tell me more….” or “What else?” demonstrates that doing a good job is important to you. (If you believe that the person is just dumping on you, you may want to ignore this step.)

  7. Thank the person. Handling feedback effectively is an opportunity for you to improve your skills or to make your business better. It also helps you to maintain your relationship with the person. Whether your critic’s comments are positive or negative, at the end of the conversation, make sure you say “Thank you” or “Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.”

Copyright Barbara Pachter, Pachter & Associates. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author

Pachter & Associates training and coaching services empower people to communicate more effectively, work more productively, and enhance their professional presence.

One of the world's leading experts on business etiquette and communications, Barbara Pachter shares her knowledge through seminars, keynote speaking, executive coaching and various print and digital resources including an e-newsletter and 10 business books covering everything from office tips to assertive communication.

For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

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