What do you say when the criticism is exaggerated?

8 Jul

criticism w megaphone

There will be times in your career, when you encounter the criticizer who exaggerates everything—especially mistakes. For example: “I can’t believe this project is such a wreck. If I were to present this to my boss, I’d be the laughingstock of the division. You’re supposed to be my right-hand person—how could you turn in such an awful project and have the nerve to tell me it’s complete?” When the criticism explodes in your face, it’s essential to inspect what is really being said and who is saying it. It’s too early to reject the criticism. Your more immediate concern is to try to uncover some specifics. Take the time to view the giver objectively and examine what’s behind the criticism.


Chances are great that givers who exaggerate do so frequently. Having this insight makes it easier to accept the situation and focus on what’s really being said instead of taking a defensive posture. While defensiveness might be a natural response to being “blasted,” it doesn’t permit the receiver to focus on the criticism for what it is. Perhaps what is behind the criticism and what is making the boss so upset is the receiver’s lack of attention to detail and concern for quality work. Listen to understand, not to judge. Instinct may tell the receiver that the best response is to say nothing at all and to simply wait for an appropriate time to question for specifics. At a later time, when emotions have cooled down, the giver may be more approachable for clarifying specifics.


Another response might be: “I can understand your being upset. I, too, dislike it when work comes in and it’s of a poor quality. It looks as if people don’t take pride in what they do. But I do. Can you tell me exactly what it is you don’t like?”


Agreeing with the giver takes the edge off the criticism and skillfully gets the giver to frame the criticism in more specific terms. It also serves as a catalyst to start discussing corrective action.



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