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Constructive Criticism: Managing Critical Feedback From Your Manager

Applying feedback from your manager can be simple. Learning to accept and use constructive criticism will help you improve your performance and grow in your career.

Amanda Beach photo
Amanda Beach
Feb 18, 20206 minutes

Coming out of a performance review, your head is likely full of thoughts flying in all directions. Whether it’s an informal check-in or the more formal annual review, your manager typically shares feedback in the meeting that you’re expected to reflect on. If that feedback happens to be critical, rather than complementary, it can be difficult to process and act upon.

If you’re struggling to apply your manager’s feedback or lack thereof, you’re not alone. We’re offering up some guidance for those of you who need a little push in the right direction.

Seeking Feedback

If you happen to be one of those top performers who don’t receive constructive criticism from their managers, you might want to consider asking for it. While you may see glowing reviews as the best possible scenario, you’re actually missing out on growth opportunities. Instead of leaning into complacency, try pressing your manager for areas of improvement. These can be areas where you’re currently meeting expectations but could exceed them. Ask your manager open-ended questions to get the examples and details you need to take action.

Top performers can also request additional responsibilities or leadership opportunities. If your goals include moving into management, ask about steps toward building a team. You can also identify a problem that you’re able to solve. Approaching your manager with a potential solution for the problem makes it easier to see the added value you’re contributing.

To ensure you’re receiving constructive feedback regularly, make sure your manager knows you’re open to it. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you could be giving your manager the impression you’re not open to feedback. Be explicit with your manager, explaining that you’re open and eager for feedback that can help you improve. This shows your manager you’re dedicated and invested in doing well.

Accepting Constructive Criticism

If you’re among those whose reviews don’t quite glow, you know how difficult it can be to accept constructive criticism. As much as it hurts to hear, professional feedback is valuable. Managers share feedback to help you perform to the best of your ability. They’re invested in your success because they succeed when you succeed. Thinking of feedback as guidance or advice can help you react and interpret feedback in a more positive fashion.

You can also try shifting your attitude. Adopting a growth mindset can change the way you process and use feedback. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a growth mindset is a mentality focused on improving skills and abilities through learning and receiving feedback. In contrast, a fixed mindset considers skills and abilities set in stone and less likely to be impacted by feedback. Cultivating a growth mindset enables you to grow from feedback.

Accepting feedback can still be difficult, even when approached with the right mindset. There’s nothing wrong with needing time to process. If you’re someone who needs more time, let your manager know you’ll formally respond to their feedback once you’ve had the chance to fully reflect.


You’ve received the feedback, and with a positive attitude no less. How do you start applying it?

Start with reflecting on the feedback. Put your pride aside and spend time genuinely examining your performance. Being honest with yourself is important here — you won’t improve if you’re unable to admit to yourself the areas where improvement is needed.

If you don’t agree with all your manager’s feedback, request time to discuss further. Differing perspectives will always exist in your professional life, so it’s important to learn how to deal with them constructively. At best, viewpoints that differ from ours can enrich our lives and change how we see the world. At their worst, they can cause us to become defensive and rigid in our beliefs. Having an open, honest conversation with your manager about their perception may help you better understand what their feedback was based on. Reconciling your perception with theirs enables you to make changes where necessary.

Once you’ve come to terms with the feedback and areas of growth you should focus on, create a plan to apply the feedback. Ideally, your manager will suggest actions to take based on their feedback. If they don’t, request them. Your manager is there to guide you, and that includes helping you create action plans. If you need clarity on any of their suggestions, bring up your questions right away so you’re clear on how to proceed.

Doing the Work

After all that talking, it’s time to walk the walk. Taking action on improving performance may seem tough, but it’s easier than you think.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with your goals. Break them down into smaller tasks that contribute to each larger goal (the SMART goal framework is really helpful). These tasks, and the larger goals they stem from, should be tied to timeframes to help drive progress. Map out the timing to achieve each goal and its tasks. This makes the path toward improvement easier to follow, your immediate tasks easier to tackle, and your larger goals easier to achieve.

Getting another perspective can be helpful, too. Mentors can offer that fresh take along with useful advice. Mentors don’t have to be CEOs or leaders with lofty titles — while CEOs can certainly offer you something unique, your peers can do the same. Look to someone who exemplifies the skills and qualities you’re after. If you’re open to their guidance, you can learn a great deal by listening to their experiences. They might also share approaches or strategies that will help you in your specific role.

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Trying different approaches and strategies can be great prompts for positive change. Take the average to-do list — what tends to be a very common tool among professionals can be reinvented to serve another purpose. Consider shifting away from things to do, focusing instead on things to stop doing. This pushes you to self-examine again, revealing processes or habits that don’t serve you.

Making simple, positive changes to your process and habits can also go a long way toward improvement. While some bad habits are now long-standing jokes among professionals, those habits have reached joke status because of how common they are. Procrastination, unnecessary distractions, and failing to prioritize your health all hinder your ability to perform well. Conquering bad habits like these may help you make even larger strides toward improved performance.

Proactively Tracking Progress

Being proactive about tracking progress is just as important as being proactive about bad habits. As you start seeing results, make sure check-ins are scheduled to review your progress. Your manager likely has other employees and responsibilities to cover, so you’ll need to be the steward of your accomplishments. Demonstrate how you’ve applied their feedback with details and examples, using data to back those up where possible.

If you’re not only accepting your manager’s feedback, but taking it, running with it, and improving your performance, you’ll be closer to that glowing review before you know it.