How to Deal with Criticism at Work

Today I’m doing something new – answering a careers question that was submitted to me:

“Help! Do you have any tips for dealing with criticism and not taking it personally? Or coping in a culture of complainers?”

This is a great question, as it touches upon one of the main things older generations say about us millennials – that we can’t take criticism.

It may have been the case that in previous generations bosses were much harder on employees, who didn’t have a choice but to suck it up and deal with it. But the fact of the matter is that the world is a lot quicker these days, people could just find another job in a few clicks if they are feeling harassed at work. But is it always the best way to up and leave when you face hiccups?

I’d like to break this question into two parts: 1. How to face criticism and 2. How to deal with a negative environment.

How to face criticism

Firstly, there’s something that needs to be said here. NO ONE takes criticism well. Even the most well-meaning people who just want to improve and be the best they can be die inside a little when someone points out a flaw. Once you acknowledge this fact, you can stop feeling like even more of a failure and learn how to deal.

  1.  When given negative feedback, firstly ask questions. If it’s not a clear and physical “this is where you messed up” (ie pointing to an excel sheet with mistakes) then ask for examples of when and how you have done the thing they are talking about. For example, if they say you are not proactive in engaging with clients, ask for an example. Having concrete examples can help you be aware when you’re faced with similar situations in the future – either you realise and make changes or you understand why you choose to not follow how the person expects you to be, and can explain yourself.
  2. If you do want to explain yourself and speak up in your own defence, thank the person for their feedback first. Even if you think they are being a total knob and have got you completely wrong, by thanking them first, you are showing that you are acknowledging that they are trying (hopefully) to help you, but you would like to politely disagree. If you rush in with the defence, you can come across as someone who is not willing to listen to negative comments, and as someone not wanting to improve.
  3. Ask yourself if the opinion of this person really matters. It is not worth laying awake at night over a comment from someone who barely knows you, about something that you can’t see to be true. The same goes for if your own boss has given you feedback, much harsher than normal, but you know that they are going through a tough time. If you feel that the feedback is motivated by something else, and is not a true comment about your work, then shake it off.
  4. Remember that everyone has flaws and that you have to be true to yourself. Your boss picks up on an oversight of yours, and you’re sat there listing off all the ways that you deal with her flaws as well? At the end of the day, no one if perfect, and we do have to deal with other people’s crap, whether it’s keeping your head down when they are having bad days, covering for them when they’ve missed a deadline or correcting their mistakes in a document. If you have a flaw that you’re slowly working on, don’t beat yourself up for not being able to flip a switch and turn it off. Explain to the person that this is something you’re working on, and ask for them to help you overcome this challenge. If they are a good person, they’ll kindly help you.

 

I’d like to deal with the second part of this in a second post.

If you have a careers question, feel free to reach out to me on social media, or by email at charlottesteggz[@]gmail.com.

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