A red hand pointing at a figure which is leaning back as if stunned. Criticism concept.
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How to handle criticism in the workplace like a pro

31 Jul 2023

There is no need to be like Gordon Ramsay when you’re delivering a dressing down to colleagues. Think ‘feedback sandwich’, not ‘idiot sandwich’.

Criticism from a mentor or boss usually comes from a good place, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult to hear at times. They don’t, or they shouldn’t mean it personally, so don’t take it personally or get offended. Taking criticism on board is a very positive attribute to have and it is a sign of maturity and self-awareness. Being overly defensive or getting insulted when you’re on the receiving end of criticism does nobody any favours.

And when delivering criticism to colleagues and mentees make sure to temper your words. Yes, everybody is an adult in the workplace, but there is no advantage in being overly personal or nasty. Keep what you have to say measured and try and point out what they are doing well so there is something positive to focus on. Criticism is an opportunity for growth rather than a character assassination attempt. There is no need to be like Gordon Ramsay when you’re delivering a dressing down.

How to Deliver Criticism

Think about it beforehand

Launching into a big spiel when you have to provide critique on someone’s work is probably not the most effective way to give them feedback. You might be overly negative and end up discouraging them or you might say something that confuses them.

If you have something to point out, take some time to think about what you want to say before you summon the person you want to speak to. Give them specific examples of where they went wrong and why and offer some advice on how they can improve.

Don’t overwhelm them

If you have a couple of things you want someone to work on, flag this at the start of the session. This gives them time to prepare mentally and ‘save face’. This tip is as much for you, the person giving the criticism, as it is for the receiver – if you want to avoid someone getting defensive or upset over what you tell them, you should give them a warning that they are in for a bit of a rough ride at this meeting.

Be constructive

You can be as blunt as you need to be when giving criticism but it won’t have the intended effect if you don’t offer some positive feedback also. Instead of calling somebody an ‘idiot sandwich’ like Gordon Ramsay, take the feedback sandwich approach.

The feedback sandwich is a method of giving constructive criticism in a workplace or corporate environment. You sandwich your criticism between two positive statements. For example, you could say something like: “I thought your delivery was very strong, however, you let your work down with poor formatting. You can avoid this in future by working on your PowerPoint skills.”


Don’t give negative feedback when you’re angry or emotional. Wait and cool off before you speak your mind to a colleague, particularly if they did something that caused you to react strongly.

How to Receive Criticism

Listen, don’t talk back

The best thing you can do when someone is offering you some constructive advice is to take it on board and that means digesting the information and thinking about it. You shouldn’t immediately go on the defensive and offer a long-winded explanation attempting to justify yourself – it is a waste of time and words. You are entitled to defend yourself but give it a few seconds and ask yourself if it is worth it or if you are just waffling to save your ego.

Ask questions

What you can and should do is ask for advice on how you can improve in whatever area you aren’t performing well in. Even if someone is pointing out a very minor flaw in your work, you can ask how you could have done the task differently to avoid such a mistake in the future.

Keep your cool

It’s unpleasant being criticised sometimes, especially if you’re very sensitive or a perfectionist. But remember that criticism is a part of working life and your colleagues want you to improve for the sake of the entire team. Try not to get overwhelmed when you’re being criticised and remember that different people give criticism in different ways; some can be very blunt, so it’s best to not take the things they say personally.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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