Dealing with Criticism at Work

Dealing With CriticismIt’s inevitable. No matter what you say or do, someone will disagree with you and give you criticism. If you want to grow your responsibilities, develop your skills, and be ready for management, you are going to face criticism. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said, “If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.”

Facing criticism can impact not only your work life, but also your everyday life. It can add stress to your increasing workflow, distract you from your important duties, and bleed into your thoughts after work – if you let it. If you don’t handle criticism effectively, it can potentially derail your career.

While you can’t prevent criticism, you can control your reaction so a possible negative situation can be turned into a positive one. Not all criticism is bad and it isn’t always personal. It’s a chance for someone to provide feedback that’s valuable to your career goals. Here is a simple process to handle criticism and improve your career.

Don’t Get Defensive
Whenever we are criticized, generally our first reaction is to shoot down any opposition. It’s easy to take personally and can make you feel like you’ve been put in a corner. Before you quickly rise to defend yourself, give your managers or co-workers the opportunity to express their opinion. They have different perspectives and can see things you don’t. They might have a reasonable point that could get lost if you’re too busy trying to defend yourself.

Pull away from the situation. Treat it like you were observing someone else’s life. This will help you determine whether you are being overly sensitive or if whoever is criticizing you is just being hateful. Being open to the feedback will help you stay cool, calm, and collected. The calmer you are, the more rational you will be, which will help you make better decisions.

Search Your Feelings. You Know Them to be True
Stress and pressure can build when you don’t acknowledge what’s bothering you. Your feelings are a key part of your work performance. By ignoring feelings, you create a larger problem to deal with later. By accepting and then expressing them, you’ll be able to deal more effectively with issues from the start. When you understand how you feel, you can work with your supervisors and co-workers to communicate feedback in a way that is more acceptable and clear to avoid hurting feelings.

Rather than hiding emotions, notice them as they arise without judging yourself or blaming others for making you upset. Find out what your feelings are saying. What are the feelings asking you to do? What new choices can you make to help yourself feel at peace about the criticism? Getting to the bottom of your emotions can help you know the best ways you receive information and feedback and how you can better communicate it.

There’s a Nugget of Gold in There Somewhere
One of the simplest ways prospectors extracted gold during the 19th century was by panning for the valued metal. It was a cheap and easy process dating back to ancient Rome where gravel is scooped into a pan, gently agitated in water, and then the gold sinks to the bottom of the pan. Just as a gold prospector would have to sift through a large number of minerals to find the pieces of gold, you should sift through all criticism of you or your work and determine which ones are worth implementing.

Even if the feedback was conveyed in a less than nice manner, there could be some truth to what is being said to you. You don’t have to be the only deciding factor. If criticism is given from a co-worker, take the feedback to your boss, a mentor, or industry peers to see if it’s valid. You don’t have to make changes from all criticism, but always work to understand them and determine which ones could actually help you.

Get Out There and Grow
Now that you know what feedback is useful, it’s time to implement it. If you’re unsure, discuss it with the person who criticized you to see how you can best apply their ideas. It can build a stronger working relationship when you are showing effort to change your ways and asking for feedback to make those changes. If criticism is coming from your boss, it’s a great opportunity to display your maturity by working to change negative feedback instead of blowing it out of proportion. This way your manager will be more trusting of you and will be more open to giving you honest quality feedback, which will make you a better employee.

Don’t think of criticism as an attack. While you may have to deal with difficult co-workers, most of the time, feedback is meant to be constructive. It’s up to you as to which criticism is useful and which to ignore. If you really can’t handle criticism and really want to avoid it at all costs, you can follow the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s advice, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”


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  1. Darlene

    I would try to thank person for bringing it to my attention and then ask the person for suggestions on how they would respond or handle the situation

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