How To Handle Criticism At Work

If You Do Not Handle It Well, It Can Derail Your Career.

By Steve Schumacher

Have you ever worked long and hard on a project and felt like you really did a good job, only to have your boss tell you all the things that could be improved with it?

If you have, join the club.

Being criticized about your work is something we all face at times in our careers. Nobody is perfect, we all make mistakes. What differentiates people is how they handle the criticism. I have worked with many managers over the years and none of them are perfect at delivering criticism either. You cannot control how criticism will be delivered, only how you accept it and work with it.

Here are some tips on how to take criticism well and learn from it:

Accept that you are not perfect. This is a piece of advice that all people entering the workforce should get. At a young age we think we are invincible and that everything we touch should turn to gold. As we have a few more experiences, we realize that being successful at work is not about being perfect.

It is about understanding that we will make mistakes along the way to success. Try to think of a mistake as an opportunity to show just how good you can be by learning from it.

Listen carefully to the criticism. When someone is telling you how you can improve, it can be difficult to not be hurt and shut down your listening skills. This is time to do just the opposite.
Pay very close attention to what the person is telling you, especially if it is your boss. Take notes and ask good questions, not only about where you went wrong but how you might improve next time.

Say thank you. Most people in business will not give you negative feedback when they notice something that you did wrong. They will simply talk behind your back. Of course, it is your manager’s job to give you criticism and help you improve.

When it comes to co-workers, if they give your criticism, understand they are doing you a favor because most people will not. What do you do when someone does you a favor? Say thank you. I have found that saying thank you when criticized is one of the consistent behaviors of high potential employees.

Do not get defensive. The absolute worst thing you can do in the face of criticism is get defensive. Many people have the tendency at this time to point fingers at others or say it was not their fault. They blame a lack of resources, a lack of cooperation, not enough training or time, etc.

Keep in mind that you are looked at as a person who should be able to overcome challenges, not give in to them. Do your best to not take the criticism personally. Accept it as information and another person’s perspective.

Determine if the criticism is accurate. If you feel like the negative feedback is not accurate, seek the opinions of others. Tell people that you trust what you have been told and see if they agree or disagree with it.

If you get others to agree with the negative assessment, then you need to change your thinking about it. If they do not agree with the criticism either, you may want to go back to the person that criticized you and ask for more clarification and/or examples.

Work with the criticism. Keep in mind that, when someone criticizes you, there is an expectation that you will take the feedback and do something with it. If you do not make a change based on the feedback, then there are two issues in play: the criticism itself and why you are not addressing the issue. When that criticism comes from your boss, the expectation of making a change based on the feedback is even higher.

When people in higher positions that you give you criticism, they are watching to see how you respond to it. If you get defensive and do not use the criticism to improve, those are strikes against you and your career. If, on the other hand, you respond calmly and appreciate the feedback as well as put changes in place, those are points in your favor.

Do the right thing and your boss will respond with more developmental and instructional feedback for you in the future. 

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