17 Phrases To Respond to Constructive Criticism, According to Psychologists

Employee receiving constructive feedback from their boss

"Handles constructive criticism well" appears in many work-related performance reviews. You may have even had it on your report card growing up. And there's a reason why dealing with constructive criticism is considered an important life skill.

"As they say, 'Feedback is a gift,'" says Dr. Taryn Marie Stejskal, Ph.D., a psychologist and Chief Resilience Officer and founder of the Resilience Leadership Institute.

However, it's understandable if your initial reaction to this type of feedback is not exactly filled with self-assurance, and is filled with defensiveness instead.

"Constructive criticism can shake our sense of self, confidence and safety," says Dr. Sarah Porter, Ph.D., a psychologist. "Our minds often go straight to the worst-case scenario: 'Is my job on the line?' or 'Will they break up with me over this?' Our nervous system goes into overdrive if we feel under attack, so we might struggle to find the right words when put on the spot."

Finding the right words is important, though, especially because it's so easy to sound defensive after receiving constructive criticism.

"When responding to constructive criticism, it's important to choose your words wisely because you cannot unsay them," says Dr. Dana Harron PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with Monarch Wellness & Psychotherapy. "It's important to choose language that makes it clear that you understand and care about what has been said."

It can be a tall task during what can be a highly emotional conversation. Experts are here to help you find the best words for responding to constructive criticism. 

Related: 15 Phrases To Disagree Respectfully, According to Psychologists

Why Constructive Criticism Is Beneficial

Criticism, in general, isn't fun—including the constructive kind. However, Dr. Harron says constructive criticism is different than other types of feedback you may receive in that it's specific. 

"Constructive criticism details what you need to work on, why it is important and, ideally, how you need to work on it," Dr. Harron says.

Criticism like, "You're a jerk," is just mean, and something like, "You were late on Friday," isn't fixable. Dr. Harron says constructive criticism might sound like, "Last week, many people were upset that you were late for the meeting. Moving forward, it would be wonderful if you would be sure to arrive 10 minutes early for meetings so that you show everyone that you respect their time."

Experts share that this type of feedback leaves room for growth.

"Constructive criticism gives us insight into our blind spots; helps us improve our parenting, relationships and work performance, and—believe it or not—can actually increase closeness between you and the feedback giver," Dr. Porter says.

Related: 12 Phrases To Use When Someone Is 'Talking Down' to You—and Why They Work, According to Psychologists

17 Phrases To Respond to Constructive Criticism Like a Pro, According to Psychologists

1. "Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me."

Dr. Porter says this phrase is one of the best to say right after receiving constructive criticism from anyone—from a colleague to a loved one.

"Providing feedback, especially when it is not praise, is interpersonally risky and can feel uncomfortable for the giver," Dr. Porter says. "Thanking them for taking this step is important and sets the tone for a productive conversation."

2. "It seems you're telling me X, Y and Z. Do I have that right?"

Conversations with constructive criticism can be high stakes, with each party considering how to respond. Misinterpreting or not hearing something is common. Dr. Harron says repeating the feedback can help clear things up.

"It also lets them know that you are paying attention to what they are saying and you care about their feedback," Dr. Harron says. "This is particularly important for any relationship where miscommunication has been a problem."

3. "Can you provide me with some examples of ______?"

Constructive criticism is generally specific by nature, but the provider of it may not have given concrete examples. You may wish to hear them.

"This also shows the person providing the feedback that you are interested in learning more about how to improve," says DrErnesto Lira de la Rosa, Ph.D., a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor.

4. "I’m open to hearing how I can improve, and I value your perspective."

Dr. Stejskal loves that this phrase acknowledges the initial feedback and solicits more.

"This phrase verbalizes your openness and interest in receiving feedback from all sources and sends the message to the person providing suggestions that you value their observations," she says.

5. "This is hard for me to hear, but I appreciate you bringing this to my attention."

It's OK to be vulnerable and express your genuine feelings. 

"It is normal for us to have a range of emotions when receiving constructive criticism, so this phrase can help communicate that you are receiving the feedback but also want to acknowledge your emotions," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.

6. "I can see what you're saying."

Dr. Harron says that this phrase turns what can be a combative conversation into one that inspires teamwork and mutual respect.

"This phrase lets people know that you understand where they are coming from, even if you don't necessarily agree," she says. "The interaction will be more successful if you feel like you are on the same side."

7. "I appreciate that it might have been hard to tell me that."

Constructive criticism isn't easy to receive, but it's not easy to give, either.

"This phrase lets people know that you are keeping their feelings in mind as you are receiving their feedback," Dr. Harron says. "It's particularly useful for intimate relationships such as romantic partnerships and deep friendships."

Related: 11 Common Behaviors of Authentic People—and One Thing They *Never* Do, According to Therapists

8. "Wow, I didn't realize I was doing that, and I will now be more aware."

Dr. Porter notes this phrase is ideal for saying to a friend or romantic partner whose feedback genuinely sparked a "lightbulb moment." It's honest but also quickly turns the page to the future.

9. "I really value your take on this, and I’d like to offer some context."

Not all feedback is warranted. If the constructive criticism you just received seems to fit this bill, Dr. Porter says that this phrase can be helpful. The key is using "and" instead of "but."

"When you use 'but,' it often has the unintended effect of negating what the person shared with you," Dr. Porter says. "When you use 'and,' it allows their perspective and yours to co-exist."

10. "I’ll take your suggestions into consideration and work on making those changes."

Dr. Stejskal loves that this one shows you heard the person and are willing to reflect before taking action (if any).

"This can be a great phrase to use with all people in your life if you need time to take in the feedback that was shared and determine if and how you’ll make changes in response," Dr. Stejskal says.

11. "Is it possible to also get this feedback in a written format? I want to ensure I remember this feedback for my future work."

Dr. Lira de la Rosa suggests using this phrase after receiving feedback at work.

"Emotions will arise when receiving constructive criticism, so we may need to see this feedback in a written format to help us remember what was being shared," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.

12. "I appreciate you sharing this feedback with me. Is it OK to have regular check-ins to discuss other ways I may improve?"

Changing behavior or work performance is a journey, and one conversation likely won't fix everything.

"For some people, receiving constructive criticism can be beneficial, but it may be best to have regular check-ins than receiving it on the spot." Dr. Lira de la Rosa says.

13. "Let’s put our heads together to figure this out."

Dr. Porter recommends this phrase because it turns the conversation into a team effort to solve a problem.

"Collaborating on how to move forward will help you stay connected to your partner, child, bestie or co-worker and come up with next steps that you both agree on," Dr. Porter says.

14. "I need time to think about what you've said."

It's tempting to want to explain why you're right or jump right into fix-it mode. However, sometimes, the best response takes time to determine.

"Even if you aren't emotionally reactive, and even if it's given gently, constructive criticism can make you feel attacked, ashamed and humiliated," Dr. Harron says. "It is completely OK to have those feelings, and it is completely OK to buy yourself some time to think about how you'd like to respond."

15. "Sharing this is going to help us to be closer."

Even in a difficult moment, you can acknowledge the value of your relationship with a person giving hard feedback.

"It's well suited for when the constructive criticism is about the way that you function within the relationship, particularly an intimate or close one," Dr. Harron says. "It reinforces the honesty and bravery of the person providing the feedback."

16. "Are there things I can do differently moving forward?"

Dr. Lira de la Rosa says this phrase emphasizes your openness to feedback and a more positive future.

17. "Are you saying I'm not perfect in every way?!"

It's tongue-in-cheek by design (and needs to be used carefully).

"This is for when you want to lighten the mood but still acknowledge that you've received the criticism," Dr. Harron says. "It's good for peer-level relationships like friendships that are enhanced by humor and times when the topic isn't overly serious or deep."

Related: 9 Phrases That Train Others to Treat You Well, According to Psychologists

4 Other Tips for Handling Constructive Criticism

1. Breathe

Dr. Stejskal says people often hold their breath when receiving constructive criticism because they are bracing for bad news, like being fired or dumped.

"The process of constricting our breath can make us feel even more scared and irritable because our body is not getting enough oxygen," Dr. Stejskal says. "As you receive constructive criticism, become conscious of your breathing and regulate your breath so it is steady and even."

Dr. Stejskal says this process will ground you.

2. Watch your body language

Words matter, but they don't say everything.

"Try nodding to communicate that you’re actively listening and avoid crossing your arms, which physically conveys that you’re not open to the feedback," Dr. Porter says.

3. Take time to respond

You don't have to devise a solution in 10 seconds or respond immediately. In fact, a knee-jerk reaction may come across as defensive.

"It is OK to think about what you are hearing and to process the emotions that come up for you," Dr. Lira de la Rosa says. "Knowing that you may need this time will help you prepare for conversations when you are receiving feedback."

Dr. Porter suggests taking a day or two.

4. Consider the source

Not all constructive criticism is created equally.

"A romantic partner, manager or friend is more likely to have good intentions at heart, whereas a troubling comment or direct message on social media may not," Dr. Stejskal says. "Ask yourself if the person who provided the reflection has the desire to advance your development and growth at heart."

Next: 8 Ways To Complain Politely and Still Get What You Want, According to a Therapist