Criticism at Work: Responses That Preserve and Grow Your Career

Sylvia blog photoThere is an art to receiving criticism. Don’t assume you automatically know how to do it. Most people are rather clueless. You’ve got to think it through, plan a strategy, and practice. The following guidance can help you to actually improve relationships, save your reputation, and move projects forward in a highly productive manner.

Assume the other person has your best interests at heart. Unless you know otherwise, this is a great place to start when criticism comes your way. Resist the temptation of believing the other person delights in chopping you down. Try on the attitude that maybe this person really wants to see you succeed long term.

Control your emotions. Stay calm and appear stable. Avoid angry outbursts, obnoxious dismissal, and tears. You don’t have to like what you hear-or agree with it-but you do need to remain professional if you value your job. Demonstrations of lack of control can kill your career.

Look for the truth within the message. While you may not want to hear the whole message, try focus on the one kernel of truth that’s usually there. What is the golden nugget-the single piece-you can take with you long after this conversation concludes? What change can you make? What action can you take? Even the worst criticism imaginable contains a bit of truth that can serve you well.

Ask for clarification. If you are not hearing specifics during a critical conversation, ask the person to tell you precisely how he thinks you could have managed the project differently. You don’t have to accept vague generalities that give you nothing of value. Using a reasonable tone of voice, request the clarity you need to avoid these mistakes in the future.

Elevate the other person. This is especially useful with persons who have some authority over you. Acknowledge and respect the individual’s position throughout the conversation. Say something like: “I take your comments very seriously because you’ve managed this company for twenty years and certainly understand the business.”

Determine the action you need to take. After considering all of the critical content, you need to decide how you can use this information to everyone’s advantage. What has to happen next? Propose a solution before the conversation ends. See if what you are thinking sounds reasonable to the other person. This can be the creative, positive part of an otherwise challenging, difficult encounter.

Receiving criticism doesn’t need to crush you. View it as a gift. See it as a learning opportunity.

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