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‘It’s unfair’, ‘It hurts’, ‘They’re wrong’, ‘They’ve made it personal’. Do you have these thoughts when someone gives you criticism, or feedback, at work?

The reason it hurts, or feels ‘personal’, is because you haven’t yet met and fully accepted that judgement in yourself. When you feel defensive, angry or upset with someone else’s reflections on you, that shows where you are off at work (and in the rest of your life).

So, how to get ‘comfortable’ with such criticism? Let’s say someone tells you that you did a poor job on a recent project.

Firstly, I would look at ‘Where are they right?’ You may not feel that your entire input was poor, but can you see those moments where you saw yourself as poor? Where was it that you didn’t fully show up? Where was it your commitment went astray, even briefly? If you can just find one moment, you can start to join them in where they could see you as a ‘poor’ team member.

Secondly, I would ask them to get specific: where exactly was I poor? So often we can hear ‘you did a poor job’ and then blanket that feedback onto our entire input. The more you’re willing to ask for specifics, the easier your relationship will get. And after a while, you’ll start to be seen as the most open person in the office and notice where that can take you.

And finally, I would look at what you think they’re saying when they say you did a poor job. For instance, you may take it that they really mean you are lazy, incompetent and uncommitted. Again, can you find where you are sometimes ‘lazy’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘uncommitted’? If you can find where you see that in yourself, you no longer need to defend against it. Your feedback-giver is simply telling you what you already know. And then to balance it out, notice also where you are the opposite: ‘active’, ‘competent’ and ‘committed’.

This way you come to see that, sometimes, you have lived out all the judgements anyone can make on you – good or bad. Once you know that, why would you still feel any need to ‘defend’ yourself against criticism?



Duncan Lewin is an ex-Deloitte consultant specialised in helping people improve their skills in giving and receiving feedback, managing conflict more productively and handling difficult conversations. He delivers Symposium training courses on feedback and emotional intelligence.

A former ‘feedback-phobic’, Duncan was terrible at handling feedback and criticism. Like many, he had two ways of responding: aggressive and argumentative, or passive and resentful. Neither worked, and both left him stressed. Eventually the stress got too much and he began a deep, personal journey in finding a new way of relating to feedback and conflicting opinions. The results have been startling; Duncan now actively seeks feedback, feels comfortable with conflict and has learnt how to handle even the most difficult conversations with (he hopes!) assertiveness and grace.

He works with a range of clients including BT, Accenture, Exxon Mobil and Canary Wharf Group.

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