My employee doesn’t take criticism well. How should I handle them?

I have a member of staff who doesn’t take criticism well. I have told her off for making mistakes and she looks like she’s about to cry. Should I try to toughen her up, or ship her out?


It’s a pretty natural reaction to think: “This is too hard, I’ll just ship her out”.


But as a leader, you need to introduce some EQ into your leadership style and take onboard that we all have different sensitivities that trigger our reactions.


A good leader should want to understand why she reacts so strongly to criticism and then adjust accordingly, rather than attempting to toughen her up, which behaviourally is virtually impossible.


But from your question, I wonder what is annoying you more – the mistakes or her reaction to being criticised?


Basically, I see two separate issues here. The first one is a performance issue and relates to her underperforming in her tasks.


This needs to be managed at the time it occurs by having a one on one critical conversation that is non-confrontational and impersonal.


Ensure it allows for a two-way flow of conversation for her to express her opinions.


The aim is to determine why she keeps making mistakes in her work and how it can be resolved. Maybe this part of her job is something she’s not strong in and should be passed on to someone else.


I’m not suggesting here that you compromise your own values, but rather that you show some flexibility in your approach.


Ask her why she reacts so strongly when you criticise her and ask her if there would be a better approach.


Secondly, it has also become a behavioural issue.


Behavioural differences are one of the most common causes for conflict in the workplace.


They are also one of the most difficult to manage due to individual differing points of view and values.


In others words, what’s important to you, probably won’t be that important to her and what pushes your buttons may not worry her in the slightest.


Keep in mind that some people are extremely sensitive to personal or professional criticism, so as a leader you need to adjust how you approach each individual in your company.


Here are some suggested communication strategies that have worked for me in dealing with people who are sensitive to criticism:

  • Don’t make any performance related conversation personal.
  • Start the conversation with a compliment, such as, “You are really doing a great job but I need to speak with you a problem we are having with… (give examples)”. This instantly depersonalises the conversation.
  • Ask her if she agrees with your analogy, a good leader needs great listening skills.
  • Be clear, direct and keep it task related.
  • Ask for any feedback.
  • Help her to understand that you are wanting to jointly find a solution to the problem and that it is not a personal attack.


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