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Feedback: How to Handle False Criticism at Work

Updated on September 2, 2011

Not all feedback is good feedback. Sometimes the criticisms we receive are unsubstantiated and false. While no criticism is enjoyable, the most difficult criticism to take is false criticism.

The worst false criticism I’ve had was being told that I did not take criticism well. When I saw those words in black and white on my employee evaluation I was shocked. I’ve written articles about constructive criticism! Not to mention that the person who wrote this had never once offered me any criticism at all. I couldn’t believe it. Me? I don’t take criticism well? I love criticism! I ask for criticism! I’m constantly seeking to improve my skills and gain valuable feedback!

My mind reeled over the criticism. Why would they say something like that? How could I possibly respond?

How you handle false criticism can distort your image as well as your vision.
How you handle false criticism can distort your image as well as your vision. | Source

If I even attempted to deny the claim that I did not take criticism well then I would in fact not be taking criticism well and that would only prove their point. Even if I tried to defend or even question the criticism, it would look like I wasn’t taking the criticism well. There was no possible way to deny, defend or question it. Yet there it was, completely false and unsubstantiated.

Times like this call for a step back in self reflection. I needed to ask myself if there was any possible way that there was even a smidgen of truth to the claim. Replaying every conversation I could recall with this person I examined their words and my responses. I came to the conclusion that the words were in fact false. This co-worker was asked to provide feedback on me and I believe his words were what he thought to be true, even though they were not based on any real interaction or circumstance.

Another Example of False Criticism

I work with an individual who was perceived as being disrespectful, yet in his heart, he genuinely respects others and wants to learn from them. The best way for him to handle this false criticism is to find out what he is doing or saying that is causing others to see disrespect from him. Is there a certain word that he's using? Is it his mannerisms? Does he give off an air of arrogance or pride? Asking for honest feedback from close friends and coworkers may uncover the base of the misconception.

The question then remained, how can I possibly respond?

Any time we are faced with inaccurate criticism our first response is naturally to defend ourselves or deny it. Yet becoming defensive can often appear as if we are making excuses or blaming someone else. It really doesn’t matter what the criticism is, the more we defend ourselves or deny its possibility, the less credible we seem. Instead of focusing on the false criticism, perhaps it would be wise to focus on the perception of the false criticism.

Why would he think that I didn’t take criticism well? What was it I’ve done or said that may have led him to that conclusion? While I cannot undo the past, I can keep a close watch on my actions in the present. If his perception of me was that I would defend or deny negative feedback, then I needed to take steps towards improving that perception.

My situation is just an example of false criticism. The feedback can come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter what the false criticism is, what matters is that someone perceived that feedback to be accurate. Isn’t there a saying about someone else’s perception being their reality? What matters when you are given false criticism is how your respond.

Responding to false criticism really should look the same as responding to accurate criticism. After all, the one giving the criticism will usually believe it to be true. Defending or denying it will only cause problems.

How you can respond to false criticsm

  1. Keep your body language calm. Look them in the eye. Think before you speak. Smile. Say something like, “thank you for the feedback, I’ll look into that.” Or, “I’ll try to work on that.”
  2. Take a step back and spend some time in self reflection. Is there any truth to the claim? If not, why would they perceive it to be true? This can be a good time to work on your self-awareness skills. If what is in your heart is not being projected toward others, then you need to find out why.
  3. Carry on with your work yet be mindful of the perceptions of others. False criticism will usually find itself out. If you can develop a keen awareness of how others perceive you, you can improve their impressions and help them see the truth. This is done with actions, not words.

If you would like more information about constructive criticism, or how to stop blaming others or making excuses when receiving criticism, be sure to read my other hubs on the subject such as: Feedback: Stop Making Excuses or Blaming others when Receiving Criticism and The Art of Constructive Criticism: How to Give and Receive Feedback.

What about you? Is there a time that you have been falsely criticized? How did you respond? Were you able to overcome the perception? Is so, how? I would love to read your responses in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this hub, be sure to vote it up! If you know someone that may benefit from this article, please feel free to share it. Thanks for reading!


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  • Erich Lagasse profile image

    Erich Lagasse 

    7 years ago

    Hi Lisa,

    The tips you provide to handle negative criticism are great; I agree it's better to keep a cool head and think things over before responding. I believe the best way to deal with criticism is to be be proactive and ask for feedback before it's given, that way communication between the two parties will be more fluid and transparent. We posted our review of why it's important to ask for feedback periodically. - Erich

  • ikechiawazie profile image

    Ikechi Awazie 

    8 years ago from Lagos, Nigeria

    Nice points lisa, Learning to accept critismis a path to greater success in your workplace

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    JamaGenee - Thanks for the comment! It Seems like there are a lot of poor leaders out there. I love your example about the former supervisor! I believe if one person has the same type of problem with several people, then the problem is most likely with the one person. Sounds like this was the case in that situation. Actions do speak louder than words. Thanks for reading!

  • JamaGenee profile image

    Joanna McKenna 

    8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

    Lisa, I too welcome criticism. But at the risk of sounding as if I'm taking the "blame another" route, I've had to bite my tongue many times to keep from laughing at the person giving the "bad" assessment. Yes, it's their reality, but based on what?

    More often than not, bad managers get promoted for reasons other than ability to lead - i.e. on the recommendation of a well-connected family friend - and using the catchall "can't take criticism" in an assessment of an otherwise great employee is only a reflection of their own insecurity. Especially if they (incorrectly) perceive that that employee wants their job.

    They feel threatened. Therefore, as you say in #1 in "How to respond", one's reaction should be submissive and non-confrontational. Chances are, that person will be promoted out of the department, or (best case scenario) DEmoted to a position where assessing employee performance isn't part of the job description. The latter is what happened to a former supervisor who routinely ticked the "can't take criticism" box on so many evaluations that someone higher up correctly decided it was she who couldn't handle criticism! ;D

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks for commenting, Learn Things Web! It sounds like the one who lost out in your situation was your boss! The damned if you do and damned if you don't message is a very un-motivating one. Thanks for sharing!

  • Learn Things Web profile image

    J Jahan 

    8 years ago from California

    I had a boss once who told me that I don't take the initiative enough. I thought he was probably right, so I started to do more things without being asked first. Then he criticized me for doing things without asking him first. He was a nice guy, so I didn't take it too seriously. I went back to not showing initiative because it seemed like the easier option in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. I can handle criticism if it's accurate but it's frustrating when you get criticized no matter what you do.

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks Audrey! I appreciate the comments! What a nice "suggestion"! Leave it to a vocal coach to think about the softness or harshness of a word :)

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 

    8 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

    I think the way we percieve something as being criticism, has to do with the tone and the way it's given. Even false criticism can get me riled up real good when I know it is completely unfair. Criticism can come across as "scolding", blame, making us feel stupid which builds resentment.

    Gentleness should always accompany criticism. Notice how even the sound of the word "suggestion" is soft, while the word "criticism" is harsh.

    Gee, Lisa, this is such a marvelous hub and brings up a lot of "stuff". Thank you so very much. Love it and rated up, useful, interesting and awesome!

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks Simone - I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment! I was listening to your podcast on leaving comments the other day and I have to admire you for how you handled the criticism in the story about the fashion page. Most people would not have been able to have laughed at the personal attacks (at the time or years later). Even with your "many faults", your thick skin serves you well. Thanks again!

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 

    8 years ago from San Francisco

    Great advice! I think I like criticism a bit TOO much... but maybe that's because I don't get much false criticism. Folks are usually dead on with my many faults, hahaa!

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Thanks ershruti304! I appreciate your comments - you're right, criticism at work can impact your personal life as well. Thanks for sharing!

  • ershruti304 profile image


    8 years ago from Shimla

    Hello Lisa, it was a pleasure reading your hub. Criticism at workplace is one of the most common problem of professional life which impacts personal life as well. After reading your hub every person sailing in the same ship would learn to turn the criticism in positive direction.

  • Cagsil profile image


    8 years ago from USA or America

    You're quite welcome and I appreciate your comment on my hub as well, as your compliments. It's always my pleasure. :)

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Cagsil - you're probably right... I might think that you bled to death with all the red mark-ups you might use! It's probably better this way :)

    You are right about the fact that I would be in the wrong if I thought someone was a gossip and they were not (side note: I was thinking that I should have mentioned that before I read your comment!) If I think someone is a gossip and that thought is based on assumption and half truths (or no truth), then I would be entirely in the wrong. However, people with assumptions and false conceptions are everywhere. My hub is meant to help the one who has been misunderstood, not the one who misunderstands. Your hub - a great read, I might add - would be a great one to reference for those who habitually make false assumptions and fail to see the truth. You are right - truth will always prevail!

    Thanks again! :)

  • Cagsil profile image


    8 years ago from USA or America

    Hey Lisa, actually, it would not be best to ask me to read your hubs before being published, but it was a cute statement. LOL! But, let me touch on something you said in your response- "you're right about perception not being reality....however, it may be someone else's reality. For example, if I think that someone is a gossip, even if they aren't, then they are a gossip to me." and you would actually be wrong. You've perceived them in a negative aspect, which is you not being honest with yourself about using your own perception without facts. You will have jumped to make an assumption, warranted on not all factual evidence to the contrary. When you do so, then your perception is skewed.

    Truth will be revealed in it's own time and when you have all the evidence to support your perception, then you will no longer have a perceived notion, but will have truth. Truth always prevails perception, but the bigger question is....Will you notice it and accept it when you see it? That depends completely on your understanding and usage of "perception".

    I recently wrote a hub- "How Do You See? Knowledge and Wisdom". It might help explain what I am talking about. Again, great article. :) You're welcome. :)

  • lisabeaman profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

    Good points Cagsil! I should probably start asking you to read my hubs before I publish them. You always give me a new perspective or think of something that I missed!

    You're right about perception not being reality... however, it may be someone else's reality. For example, if I think that someone is a gossip, even if they aren't, then they are a gossip to me. Everything they say will go through that filter until they can push past that bias and I can see the truth.

    I really like your point about asking questions. I honestly should have included that! Clarifying questions can really go a long way toward understanding why someone thinks negatively.

    Thanks for reading! And thanks for the constructive criticism :)

  • Cagsil profile image


    8 years ago from USA or America

    Hey Lisa, great article. However, I would like to address a couple of things not in your article. (1) Perception has nothing to do with reality. Perception only has to do with situations and/or circumstances, because reality exists outside of one's own thoughts, desires, dreams/wishes and/or will - (2) If someone gives you criticism you do not agree with, then you only have to ask one question of said person- Please prove proof that I take criticism badly? Bring it upon the person who is making the supposed "false" criticism. You cannot turn a negative to a positive, so trying or attempting to do so, is futile. Make sure that they have to back up their claim, instead of just claiming it. Again, great hub. :)


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