Think back to the first time you received heated criticism from a superior other than your parents. It was probably in Kindergarten or first grade, but I bet you can still recall feeling your face turn bright red, a lump form in your throat, and the intense urge to dissolve into tears. The reason you can still recall this episode from so many years ago is because of something called our “negativity bias”, which is the heightened awareness of things we perceive as harmful to us. The negativity bias is also responsible for why you still have a hard time taking criticism, whether it be in your professional or personal life. It is vitally important to realize that the way others observe you handling critique can make or break you in the workplace. Here are a few ways to deal with criticism both internally and externally.
First and Foremost: Avoid a breakdown
In the heat of the moment, sometimes it is easy to abandon all sense of professionalism and allow our emotions to take over. Depending on the individual, this could mean anything from a flood of tears to a fiery rage. The first key to handling criticism is controlling your initial emotions. Politely ask your critic to excuse you and take time to reflect on what has been said. Sometimes, words that seemed inappropriately harsh or misguided during the exchange can turn out to make sense once you have had time consider them.
In addition, it is important to take care of yourself internally. Critique is never enjoyable and there is nothing wrong with taking a quick bathroom break to pull yourself together. The worst thing you can do for yourself is suppress the emotions and expect them to disappear. Humans are averse to negative feedback; your reaction is normal. Just make sure your frustration is untraceable and your attitude is refreshed before returning to work in a timely manner.
Interpret and Clarify the criticism
Once you have had time to take a deep breath and digest the information, it is time to act on the feedback. Try rewording what was said in a manner that you can best understand. Pinpoint the main ideas of your conversation. What has your behavior looked like in the past and what exactly is your superior expecting you to change? Do you understand what he or she is asking of you? If not, be open to asking for further clarification. Schedule a private meeting and ask specific questions that prove you were listening carefully and wish to make effective change. Remember that the fact that your boss is willing to sit and discuss improvement, shows that he or she sees your potential and wants to help you grow into a better professional.
Moving Forward with Confidence
Do not allow criticism to silence your voice in the workplace. No one is perfect; everyone receives negative feedback. The difference is in how you allow it to affect you. Do not become sheepish. Blending into the crowd in order to avoid more criticism just promotes you as fragile and overly sensitive. Instead, actively change your daily behavior to reflect what you have discussed with your superior, and take on these new changes with confidence. Prove that you appreciate feedback because ultimately, you want to grow to be the most capable employee possible. Stay secure in your strengths and continue to stand out; disappearing into the background will not get you anywhere.
No one enjoys criticism, but impressing your critic with the way you handle it can give your career an immense boost. Control your emotions and don’t allow harsh words to crush your spirit. The bottom line is that an employee with thick skin and a willingness to learn is consistently favored in any workplace environment.