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.”

The Workplace Barnyard – Which Animal are You?

Which workplace barn animal are you?You may feel like you work in an animal house, but in reality we all work differently. The workplace is like a barn in many ways. The different personalities you work with can mirror the habits and attitudes animals have in a farm. Here are some common animal personality types that relate to the workplace, which can help you better understand yourself and those around you.

The Challenger Rooster
Rosters are often associated with being “loud and proud” among barnyard animals. They’re the first to signal the new morning and quick to start as head of the farm – at least in their minds. You’ve probably worked with someone who loves a debate and is comfortable taking control. To them, iron sharpens iron but to you, they are pompous and arrogant for challenging your ideas.

It’s not that your loud co-workers are making things all about them, but they are trying to engage in a lively conversation to push everyone to think differently. Talking to them about your feelings and how you communicate differently can help ease tensions and form better working relationships. If you’re a workplace rooster, be careful not to get into rooster fights and watch out about how vocal you can get. It can be easy for you to overstep boundaries with co-workers and managers.

The Problem-Solving Pig
Pigs are widely considered by animal researchers to be the most intelligent domestic animals on the planet. Research has also shown pigs having the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from their own. Pigs can be the problem solvers and are known to help other animals out of a pinch.

Problem solvers may be a treasure trove of knowledge and creativity, but they tend not to be the quickest to react. Most are very analytical and will have to internalize every aspect before making a decision. It’s quality over quantity to the problem solvers, so be patient with those who need time to think over your questions. Find out when they are least busy to give you their full attention.

The Supportive Sheep
Sheep follow the herd. When the group needs to flee from danger, there isn’t a leader. The herd moves as one. Each sheep works hard to make sure they do their part for the greater good. There are co-workers who define their success in terms of volume of accomplished tasks or sales. They work the hardest, put in the most hours, and tend to show the most results.

When sheep are in a herd, they typically don’t think for themselves. They just follow the sheep in front, even if it means to their slaughter. Supportive sheep co-workers generally lack the ability to drive big projects on their own. They wait for the order instead of taking initiative and innovate new ideas. If you work with a sheep, encourage them when they form an idea and support their efforts. If you are a sheep, ask your manager to give you small challenges that are outside of your comfort zone.

The Hospitality Horse
Horses are very social creatures with their own way of greeting other horses. Farmers have been using horses for thousands of years when interacting with other animals from herding to transporting; horses interact with almost every animal on the farm. They also take a lot of effort to tame, and usually have to be tied to something or else they run off.

Co-workers can be very chatty and lack the vision to stay on track. They can be more focused on building connections than doing work or making sales.  Relationships are an end unto themselves to a social colleague. When interacting with them, have an agenda ready. And the quicker those goals are met, the more time you can spend building relationships with co-workers or customers.

You don’t have to treat your co-workers like animals, but you can use their personalities to better understand where they are coming from to have better working relationships with them.

Diplomacy in the Workplace

There is nothing worse than when three minutes of your day have the impact to create a bad day. But sometimes you get thrown into a situation that catches you off guard or shocks you so much, that the filter in your brain quits working and you spout out the first thing you think of. Rarely does this end well, especially at work where people don’t love you like family or a best friend, and are slower to forgive you.

Here are a few situations where taking a few seconds to breath and think clearly can help you be more diplomatic in the workplace.

When An Action Shocks You
We typically don’t set out to lack diplomacy, but sometimes you are so shocked that you forget to think before you react. Being diplomatic doesn’t mean you don’t address something, it just means that you address it tactfully. A simple format for slowing down and thinking about this is to follow the pro/con/pro approach. This means to start with something positive, address your concern, then end on something positive. Here is an example of pro/con/pro: “I appreciate that you’re here to help (pro), but we can’t be joking around with equipment like that, it’s too big of a risk (con). Now, I know you’re really good at this, so let’s get started (pro).”

When Someone’s Lack of Understanding Frustrates You
When you can’t seem to find clarity in a discussion, instead of stating your opinion again, or explaining something for the third time, take a break from acting like the expert and try a fresh approach. Try offering options to see if you can get clarification, obviously if your solution was the only one, than you wouldn’t be in this situation, so open the discussion up a bit. For example, “We could empty all the boxes and then sort the parts, or we could sort the parts as we empty the boxes, which do you think?” Sometimes, instead of digging in your heels, you need to offer a few options to see what idea is chosen.

When the Topic of Conversation is Inappropriate
It can be hard to refrain from abruptly stopping a conversation you think is inappropriate. As a co-worker, you really aren’t in a position to regulate the actions, conversation, or opinion of others. You are also not in a position to belittle someone or take up a debate at work. But sometimes something sparks and you find yourself in a situation like this. The important thing is to realize it as quick as possible and end it. You can demonstrate discretion with a simple and gentle statement like, “Well I hear your opinion and while this is an interesting conversation I don’t think we agree, which is totally ok.” Then just casually walk away or state what you are doing next, like, “Now I better get down to the mail room” or “I need to get back to my phone.” The important thing here is to make sure your tone is approachable and light, and make sure your body language matches this. You don’t need to feel dragged into a situation just because you took the bait at first, knowing how to walk away gracefully is a talent worth learning.

Do you have a story of when your discretion saved your workplace reputation? Share it here and let others learn the best way out of a sticky situation at work.


Associate Spotlight: Erin Wharton

Erin-Wharton-EOM-120x136When looking for a job, it’s easy to overlook the benefits of working for a staffing agency. In fact, companies like Express Employment Professionals can help change lives in the midst of economic uncertainty and provide job opportunities for some of the most hardworking individuals around.

Express takes pride in the accomplishments of those individuals who come to us for work. Without the skills and talents of our associates who provide what companies are looking for, Express wouldn’t be what it is today.

To help recognize outstanding associates and their dedication to Express and the companies they work for, we would like to showcase select associates each month on Movin’ On Up. It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and Express would like to share stories of our associates as an inspiration to you while you strive to achieve professional success.

Erin Wharton 

Erin found her current job through the South Indianapolis office in Greenwood, Ind. She came to Express after a rough job search. She spent 14 years with a previous employer in a less-than-constructive work environment. She left in hopes of finding a better place to work, but ended up facing a fiercely competitive job market, sending countless résumés and submitting numerous job applications for weeks with no response.

Fearing the worst, she noticed a job posting for an administrative position through Express. She had no previous experience dealing with staffing companies like Express and was a little cautious about calling to apply, but ended up emailing her résumé and application anyway. Within a couple of days, she was called by Michelle Bright from the Greenwood office for an interview.

“During the phone call, Michelle made me feel comfortable, confident, and helped ease what little fear I had.” Erin said.

When Erin came to the Express office for an interview, her anxiety returned until she met someone in the waiting room who had been working for Express for a few years. The woman told Erin that Express was “great to work with,” and “you’re working with the best.” When Erin sat down for the interview with Express, she was almost immediately told that there was a perfect position for her. After interviewing with McAllister Power on a Friday morning, she was offered a job to start the next Monday.

“Working with Express was by far the best choice I have made. I have even referred people to them. You don’t know how good it feels to be happy, enjoy getting up in the morning and coming to work. I look forward to the next day and what it is going to bring. Every day is something new. The employees here at MacAllister are absolutely wonderful,” Erin said.

We’re excited to have Erin as a part of our Express family. If you haven’t already considered looking into working with a staffing agency like Express, give it a try. You could find the same success that Erin did.

“I owe my happiness and my life to Michelle for matching me with the perfect company. I give everyone at Express my sincere gratitude!”

Foolproof Conference Calls: 3 How To Tips

Conferencecall_Jan_2012_webIf you’ve ever been asked to set up a conference call, you know first hand the anxiety that comes with meetings conducted this way. So many things can go wrong, from the phone conferencing system, or web conferencing software not working to attendees not calling in on time. Conference calls are normally necessary when a question is complex, a decision is trying to be reached, or an idea is being pitched, which can all be stressful conversations in person, without the added challenges conference calls can bring. Here are a few tips to take control of the situation, help you plan for the call, and conduct a successful meeting. 

1. Plan in Advance

When it comes to setting up a conference call, don’t leave anything to chance. Before you set up the call make sure you understand what is expected. Some technical questions to ask are:

  • Will you need to be able to share a slideshow or your computer screen?
  • How many people will be on the line and will you need to be able to mute the lines?
  • Will the audio call and/or the visual presentation need to be recorded?
  • How long will the call take?

You’ll want to schedule the call like you would schedule a meeting, using your calendar software to make sure that everyone involved will be available. Resist the urge to send an email with the details, instead send a meeting request containing the conference call logistics to ensure that it will show up on the calendars of the attendees and not be lost in their email inboxes. Prior to sending the meeting request, confirm the phone number, access codes, and online presentation link so that all of the information is included in the initial meeting invite. Don’t make it difficult to find the log-in information by sending separate emails and meeting requests – communicate clearly in one message. Also, include an agenda or list of questions that will be addressed. Giving your attendees time to gather information they need prior to the call will help you achieve your objectives and have a better discussion on the call. Conference calls can be effective ways to clear up confusion and seek direction, as opposed to several email threads or discussion threads trying to seek a resolution, if people are prepared in advance for the conversation .

2. Rehearse

If several individuals on your team will be involved in a call to make a presentation to a client, make sure everyone knows in advance who will be taking the lead. As the initiator of the call, you are expected to start the discussion and ensure all necessary items are communicated and decided upon with the meeting time. Again, if several of you will be talking during the call its best to rehearse the presentation to make sure everything flows together and the transition among speakers is a smooth transition. It’s important to keep callers engaged and a smooth presentation is a good step in doing that. When a call seems disorganized and lacks an agenda attendees can start to tune out and focus on the work at their desk instead of engaging in the conversation.

3. Set Up in Advance

About 30 minutes prior to the call, confirm the phone number and access codes of the call and make sure that was the information sent in the meeting request. Check to make sure your conference call was set up for the right date, in the right time zone, and for a.m. or p.m. With some conference bridges, an error in one of those fields will block callers from dialing in. If you’re hosting the meeting in a conference room, make sure the web conferencing and phone conferencing lines are all in working order and turned on 15 minutes before the call begins. If you have to download any software for the call, make sure you’ve done that the day before the call on the machines you’ll be using. You’ll reduce the stress of your fellow participants if everything is flowing smoothly before the call even begins. Prior to the call beginning, make sure you know how to mute/unmute callers and how to record the presentation and/or audio portion. One last trick for success is to dial-in with the call participant information from your cell phone after you’ve activated the call to make sure everything is working correctly. Also, let a teammate that is not on the call know the log-in information so they can direct anyone who has misplaced the information how to join.

All of the time you’ve invested prior to the call will pay off in a successful call, saving you time in the long-run. And your participants will appreciate your respect for their time with your attention to detail in hosting a successful conference call.


By Rachel Rudisill

Find the Confidence to Speak up in a Meeting

Speakup_Jan2012_webThe famous author Mark Twain once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” For many, it’s this mentality that keeps talented workers from expressing their ideas and experiences during meetings at work. No matter what your reason for staying quiet in a meeting, it’s important for you to have your voice heard. 

Not only is your employer losing a valuable insight or idea, but you are also slowing your career path and putting your eligibility for leadership in question. Even if you don’t have experience working in meetings, here are some ways to find the inner courage to speak up at meetings and make your presence known.

Rhyme and Reason

There may not be an “I” in the word “team,” but each individual in the meeting is there for a reason. You have been invited to a meeting because of some talent, skill, or knowledge you possess. Before you start thinking of excuses in your head of why you shouldn’t speak up, remember that you are supposed to be there, and the chairperson wouldn’t have included you if your abilities weren’t necessary. If you aren’t sure, ask your manager or the meeting organizer why you are being involved. This will help you get a better understanding so you can develop a strategy before attending. 

Prepare to be an Expert

Unless your meeting is impromptu or short-notice, you’ll have time to prepare. You’ll be much more likely to participate if you have a strong understanding of the material being discussed or the topic at hand. Take 10 minutes out of your day to research what is being discussed, write down any ideas or solutions you come up with, and any information that supports your points. If you’re unsure about the material you came up with, present the information to your manager to see if you are on the right track. Even if what you have doesn’t address the point of the meeting, your manager will be impressed by your initiative and drive.

This Little Light of Mine

If you hide yourself in the farthest, darkest place in the meeting room, you’ll be more likely to stay quiet. If possible, sit in the front of the meeting area where you’ll get the most people looking in your direction. If meeting at a table or circular room, try sitting next to the chairperson or organizer for the group. The more you’re in front of the action, the more likely you’ll be involved with the action. If you don’t think that will be enough, tell a manager or meeting leader to keep you in mind and ask you questions throughout the meeting to better your chances of having your opinions heard.

Don’t Abandon Ship

You’re prepped, you’re in the spotlight, and now you have to remember one important tip: stand your ground. Don’t back down at the first sign of challenge. Many individuals who usually dominate meetings have an “iron sharpens iron” mentality, and they could challenge your idea to make it better. It’s not a personal attack on you. If you have your research ready, you should be able to explain your point clearly and easily. Someone could bring up a point that you didn’t expect, but don’t get nervous. Explore those counterpoints and ask questions. Even though you might have to go back to the drawing board, your peers and managers will note the initiative you took, positioning you for leadership roles as you gain more experience and keep bringing ideas to the table.

Meetings don’t have to be scary if you don’t let them intimidate you. Use your best judgment and if you honestly feel like you can’t contribute or it’s a waste of time, it’s ok to consider walking away. But if you want to make a good impression and have your hard work and ideas help your employer move forward, you can now position yourself to let your voice be heard. What have you done to prepare yourself to speak up during an important meeting?

Showcase Your Soft Skills and Make Them Shine

Showcase Your Soft SkillsWhen looking for a job, you’ve probably come across opportunities requiring experience using certain types of abilities called hard skills. Hard skills are technical or administrative procedures related to an organization’s core business that are easy to observe, quantify, and measure. Like a dentist’s ability to fill a cavity or a carpenter’s aptitude for crafting a chair.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are sets of interpersonal attributes that have to do with how people relate to each other: communicating, problem solving, listening, conflict resolution, giving feedback, and contributing in meetings. A secretary’s social ability to relate and take an active interest in visitors to an office is considered a soft skill.

Employers tend to put more emphasis on hard skills when describing a job, but soft skills play an important role in day-to-day operations and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’ve just graduated from college and lack real world experience, are looking to switch careers, or are wanting to stand out from qualified applicants who share your skill set, you can bring attention to your soft skills on your résumé or interview.

Assess Yourself

You should have a list of hard skills and examples of what you’ve done with them from your education and previous work experience, but try to evaluate yourself and see what kind of interpersonal skills you have. Are you often in a leadership position? Have you produced good work when you were in a pinch? Do you know how to prioritize tasks and work on a number of different projects at once? Try listing your best qualities and adapt them to the job opportunities you are interested in.

Keep it Real

Think about specific examples of how you have used your soft skills. Just like hard skills, try to share how you used your soft skills to benefit a previous employer, school project, or group initiative. If possible, include any numeric data like money saved, teams managed, customers served, or people participated. Combining these examples with the accomplishment made from your technical skills will help you appear more well-rounded on your résumé and in interviews.

When you learn how to make soft skills work for you, they can go hand-in-hand with experience and hard skills to help you become more marketable and desirable to employers. What are some of your favorite soft skills and how have you used them to land a new job?