How to Avoid Being Angry or Upset When Receiving Criticism in the Service Industry

Criticism is part and parcel of life, an outcome of different people viewing the world and human society in different ways. Yet, it can be hurtful if you've put in a large amount of effort or tried your best and someone says an unkind or negative comment that casts an aspersion on everything, without a thought for the impact. Part of coping well with such criticism is to manage your own response to it, and to find good ways to deflect the bad news.


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    Know that not everyone likes everything. For example, some people love raw broccoli and others hate it. Moreover, you can't please everyone all of the time; different tastes, different interests and different preferences make for a diverse and fascinating world but also one with many disagreements about what is considered apt for any particular person. If you can accept that this is how things are and to realize that, no matter how much you do your best, there will always be someone willing to offer criticism, it can ease the disappointment. Moreover, learning to discern between criticism that is actually constructive and criticism that is nothing more than sour grapes will help you to cope better when it does come your way.
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    Do not take it personally. Remember that in the majority of cases, the criticism has nothing to do with you personally. It has to do with that person's taste buds, their personal comfort level, their high standards (that barely anyone can meet), their inflated memory of past experiences, their bad mood on the occasion, and so forth. Once again, remember to distinguish between criticism that is actually constructive (namely, it hits the mark because you know something was amiss) or criticism that is just belly-aching from a person who somehow feels a need to be bossy, mean-spirited or irritable.
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    Think in your mind something to say that is quickly responsive and polite at the same time. This can at least try to help ease the emotional pain you're experiencing and show to the person criticizing that you've heard them. It isn't about agreeing with them, it's about acknowledging them, which is often quite sufficient for many complainers. Some examples of what you might say include:
    • "I am sorry that the food wasn't what you'd expected. I'll be sure to tell chef what you thought and ask for changes in the future. As for now, I'll get the manager to see whether we can make the meal on us for tonight."
    • "I am sorry that you found my service below par. I aim to give the best possible help at all times, and it is disappointing to me that this time wasn't as good as it could have been. I will definitely take on board what you've suggested to me."
    • "I hear your concern. Could you perhaps make a suggestion for what could be improved so that I can take that on board and learn from it?" (Listen carefully on how you can make it better for that person, such as adding pineapple slices to his or her dish, etc.). Another alternative is to make suggestions for helping the customer to feel that his or her concerns are being met.
    • "I'll get onto fixing this straight away, it's no bother, please just bear with me while I make it right again."
    • "I hear your concern, and have definitely taken measures to ensure that this won't happen again. Thank you for bringing it to my attention."
    • If the customer threatens you: "I respect your opinion, it is important to hear what customers have to say about the service. However, I do not agree that threatening me is appropriate and I will not hesitate to call the police if you make that threat towards me again/I am getting the manager to speak with you right now." (This is where the behavior moves beyond mere complaining and you feel threatened or scared.)
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    Do some positive self talk. After the situation is resolved and the person leaves, you are left feeling anything from anger to trembling sadness. It can be hard to deal with the feelings after a severe criticism but this is the very time when you have the most power to help yourself.
    • Remind yourself that the person wanted to let off steam, for whatever reason, and that it is not about you. It is about their emotional baggage, their anger bundle, their negativity. Let it go so that it remains with them, not with you.
    • Remind yourself that you did your best, know your job well and will continue to do your best.
    • Fix things. If there was an inkling of truth in the criticism, accept that as a need to improve and make plans to work on that aspect. However, don't let that be a reason to discard everything in one fell swoop––remember all of the skills you do have and realize that this small aspect is just that, small.
    • Accept that it will likely happen again. This is because the service industry is a demanding one and people feel free to make loose criticism without thinking through the consequences because "the customer is always right", and for some, that means that even rudeness and unkindness is justified. That doesn't make such behavior right but being prepared for the eventuality will at least enable you to treat as "all in a day's work".
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    Do something else to distract you from what took place. When you get home from a hard day's or night's work, pamper yourself. Watch a favorite movie, call a friend, have a long soak in the bath, play with your dogs, throw darts at an image of a detested politician, hug your best friend, send flowers to someone who needs more cheering up than you do, and so forth. Just find things to do that don't relate to what happened, until you feel better.


  • If you get angry rather than feeling able to cope with the criticism, you might consider learning more about being assertive, to give you the needed tools to answer criticism in a calm and constructive manner. If your anger response seems to be really out of hand and the only way in which you ever respond to criticism, anger management techniques can also be useful but you will also need to address why you react in such an angry way to being asked to make changes, address complaints or fix issues. There may be past relationships in which everything you did was met with criticism and your fear of this could be resurfacing every time someone else critiques your service work and the sooner you realize and address this, the happier you'll be within.


  • Do not ever, under any circumstances, become physically abusive. Being physically abusive will worsen (not better) the situation.

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions