How to Handle Constructive Criticism in the Workplace

Giving and receiving constructive criticism are inevitable parts of professional life. Typically, when we think of constructive criticism in the workplace, we think in terms of top-down — that is, employees and staffers receiving feedback from managers. However, upward feedback, or feedback from employees to managers, can be invaluable for professional development and organizational growth, particularly when the feedback is constructive. 

Moreover, when working in client services, it’s often the case that a client wishes to provide constructive (and sometimes unconstructive) feedback on projects and work. This is why receiving constructive criticism — whether from a client, a higher-up, or an employee — is such a crucial skill for professional service directors and client managers.

Read on to learn how to take constructive criticism with tact and keep your clients happy!

How to take constructive criticism from a client

Let’s face it: Responding positively to constructive criticism is easier said than done. But, in the world of client services, it’s a critical skill you’ll need to develop in order to maintain client relationships and deliver a great service experience. 

Here are some top tips for receiving constructive criticism from clients:

1. Refrain from reacting emotionally

When we hear someone begin to deliver constructive criticism, it’s easy to have a negative initial reaction. Even if we don’t verbalize it, it’s often communicated by the look on our face or our sudden change in posture or body language. That’s why the first step in gracefully receiving constructive criticism is to restrain this emotional reaction. 

2. Don’t get defensive

The same part of our ego that causes us to react emotionally is the same part that wants us to defend ourselves, our teams, and our projects at the first sign of criticism. But getting defensive does nothing to serve the client or the situation and will only exacerbate the problem. 

3. Actively listen and ask questions

Only once we’ve restrained our emotional and defensive impulses can we actually listen to the client’s feedback, process what they’re communicating, and respond accordingly. By asking questions, you’ll not only show that you are engaged and taking the feedback seriously, but you’ll also get more insight into the criticism and ensure you have enough information to properly address the situation. 

What to do after receiving constructive criticism from a client

Once you’ve received constructive criticism from a client and asked appropriate questions, thank them for bringing the issue (or issues) to your attention and reassure them that you’ll follow up. Of course, the nature of the criticism will ultimately dictate what measures you take internally. 

At the end of the day, paying clients deserve to be heard and catered to — within reason. For a client services manager or director, that means taking an earful of constructive criticism from time to time.

How to accept constructive criticism from an employee

Receiving criticism from clients comes with the service director’s territory. But, it can also be helpful for managers to hear constructive “upward” feedback — that is, feedback from junior employees. While it may seem counterintuitive, upward feedback can help build trust and rapport between teams and departments and create more open, honest environments. 

So, how can you accept constructive criticism from employees with grace? The same tips for receiving criticism from clients also apply here, which means the first steps are resisting emotional reactions, stopping yourself from becoming defensive, and actively listening and asking questions. 

If you struggle with the thought of hearing critical feedback from the rank and file, put yourself in their shoes. Think of how nervous and anxious they probably are about giving their manager honest feedback. Then, think of how they’ll feel if you react poorly. You certainly won’t build any rapport and will likely erode the relationship. 

When you listen openly to what your employees are saying, you’ll know when their concerns and criticisms are genuine. In those instances, you’ll have an opportunity to improve and grow as a leader, and that’s priceless.

Finally, keep in mind that most employees sincerely want to help you, the team, the project, and the organization by offering constructive feedback. Never take any constructive criticism personally. Remember: most people struggle with reacting positively in the face of constructive criticism, so if you can master it, you’ll have a valuable edge. 

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