Grit and Soul Career Blog

How to Make Criticism at Work, Work for You.

Hearing criticism at work is hard for many of us. We pride ourselves in working hard and effectively and to have a boss or co-worker criticize our work or how we do our work can feel devastating. In our book, Time To Get Real! my co-author, Alex Plinio and I discuss the importance of taking in feedback or criticism in our chapter about Personal and Professional Development.

It is our experience that an individual can be delayed in their development because they reject the feedback they are getting from a boss or co-worker. In other words, when confronted with this new information, their reaction is, “That’s really not me.” We all know that it’s easier for individuals to hear positive information about their strengths, but more difficult to accept negative information or constructive criticism. Therefore, it’s important to be open to the information received and accepting of it so that it can be used to drive you forward in a more positive direction.

Here are some steps to consider taking if you are presented with criticism:

Try to actually hear what’s being said. Ask clarify questions if needed and for examples of the issue if appropriate. It might also help to take a few notes to help you think things through.

Assume the other person means well
Unless shown to be otherwise, assume that the person giving you the criticism means well. Try not to jump to the conclusion that the person criticizing you has it out for you.  That can certainly be the case on occasion but give the person a chance to explain and for you to understand the issue first.

Avoid getting defensive
Making excuses or getting defensive is not helpful at this point. Listening and trying to understand the issue is more productive during the conversation. You can always formulate a response to deliver later if you think you need to explain yourself.  

Really, really try not to take it personally
Don’t take negative feedback about your work as a criticism of you as a person. None of us does everything perfectly and we all make mistakes. Try to focus on the professional aspects of the issue and keep the personal out of it.

Choose to see criticism as helpful
Constructive feedback or criticism is usually a sign of interest and that people want to help you improve. Those of you who are in a position to have to give constructive criticism from time to time know how hard it can be to deliver and how much you want it to make a positive impact. Some of my biggest leaps in professional development came from feedback that was hard to hear but important for me to hear and act upon.

Remember that there is no need to be hard on yourself
Remember everybody makes mistakes.  Everyone has something to learn. It’s part of growth and development. Think back to other times in your life when you have received constructive criticism and how it helped you. Think about people you know who keep making the same mistakes over and over because they refuse to listen to criticism and learn from experience and feedback.

Say thank you and ask for time for follow up
Thank the person for their feedback. By this point in the conversation you have hopefully agreed on the issues that were raised and made a plan for moving forward. The best thing to do now is close the conversation and move on. However, if it’s a larger issue or if you later think of things you want to ask or discuss, you may want a follow-up. Sometimes it takes time to process the feedback, ask for advice from others, and consider solutions.

These steps are only relevant for well-meaning and constructive criticism. Unfair and overly negative feedback can also be used by poor managers and office bullies to put down and control others. This could include personal attacks, unfair criticism for something that is not your fault or not in your control or delivered in a harsh or unprofessional way. Seek appropriate help and support if this is happening to you.

Constructive feedback is important because it gives us a chance to grow and learn. I often hear from people that they wish they received more feedback in the workplace! So, try to think of constructive criticism as the gift it can be and take the opportunity to learn and develop. Think of it as a part of being a lifelong learner.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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Karen Catapano: A Career Transformation from Nurse to Goat Farmer!


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