How To Deal With Unfair Criticism in the Workplace

February 8, 2023 |

Dealing with criticism at work is never easy, but dealing with unfair critique can be even more difficult. Read here to learn how to deal with harsh feedback.

Receiving criticism comes with every job; it’s something that you can’t avoid. It’s natural for criticism to hurt our feelings from time to time. For the most part, we can find the value in the criticism, incorporate the feedback in some way, and move on.

Dealing with critique becomes trickier when it’s negative, harsh, cruel, and unfair, and it’s often not possible to quit your job at the drop of a hat in response. For the sake of keeping your job and your sanity, here are a few tips to show you how to deal with unfair criticism in the workplace.

Learn To Tell the Difference Between Fair and Unfair

Sometimes, even fair criticism can feel harsh, making it feel unfair. It’s important to try and set aside your emotions to determine whether the critique you received was unnecessary or good-natured advice.

Fair criticism should never be a personal attack on your appearance, character, or anything that isn’t about the job you’re doing. Your manager should give it to you in a constructive, calm, and non-threatening manner. Unfair criticism may be harsh, threatening, and non-constructive, meaning that what they’re telling you isn’t helpful. For example, if someone tells you that the report you wrote was “god-awful,” but they don’t tell you what to fix, that’s unfair and unhelpful.

Respond Slowly and Calmly

After receiving harsh criticism, your first step is to take a moment and think. Your initial reaction may be to call out what the other person said, raise your voice, or insult them in return. Instead, think about why they’re telling you this and why they’re speaking to you in this way. Have they been having a hard time at work?

While this isn’t an excuse for treating you harshly, this can help you change your perspective and mindset so that you can act more accordingly. You can further probe into what they meant by their criticism or ask why they’re speaking to you in such a manner. However, no matter what you ask, it’s important to speak calmly and politely so as not to stoke the flames of an altercation.

If you can’t think of a good response, your other option is to repeat back what they said to you. You can either repeat what they said exactly or repeat back their overall point. The idea is to say only facts. In doing so, unfair critique will crumble, and they’ll have to reflect on what they said.

Know When Things Have Gone Too Far

Continuous and pervasive disrespect, bullying, and belittling are cause for concern. This is particularly so if you’ve confronted the critic and HR, yet nothing seems to change. At that point, you may be dealing with workplace harassment—cruel criticism, harassment, and bullying are the leading signs that you may be a victim of workplace retaliation.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with unfair criticism at work is that you don’t deserve to feel unvalued, unsafe, or disrespected. With unfounded critique, the shortcomings don’t fall on your shoulders; it’s on them.