We’ve all been in that situation: you’ve submitted or done something and then there comes the feedback. Most of the time, it’s incredibly justified and helps you become better at the task at hand, but sometimes there is some that knocks you completely out of left field and makes you just blink and react in shock. “They said what?”
Rather than going down the two most natural and disparate courses of action available—sobbing with despair and with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s or yelling that the critic doesn’t know what on Earth they’re talking about—it’s worth taking a moment and considering some of these five ways to handle this most awkward of personal situations.
Step 1: Take a step back from yourself
It’s easily the first step in handling this with some grace and decorum—just take a step back. When the critique form slides across your desk or when those comments have hit home, you really need to remove yourself mentally from the situation, if not physically.
The most instant reaction we experience when it comes to critiquing is anger. Rage. Frustration. Sadness. The key is not to relinquish or suppress these emotions—it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel angry or upset at criticism—but to take a step back and allow them to wash over you. Take a coffee break for five minutes and just feel. Lose yourself in another activity if you have that option—see a movie, go to a concert, have a soak in the tub or watch that awesome show you’ve been meaning to catch up on. Remove yourself from that environment and that feeling for a while so you can gain some perspective and objective distance.
When you’re done, the anger and rage might still be there, but you’ll have dialed it down from potentially yelling at your boss, yelling at your friends, your family, to being able to see with some clarity of vision through the red haze.
Step 2: See it from another point of view
The point is this: chances are when you’re getting some criticism, it’s coming from a place of good intentions. “How on Earth can such good intentions lead to someone criticizing the hell out of you?”, you might wonder.
In a work environment, idle gossip born from close proximity and bored minds is just that, so real constructive criticism is just that. Chances are if your boss or manager has told you what you’re doing wrong or how you’re doing it wrong, they’re not taking any kind of malicious Schaudenfreude-esque pleasure in your suffering. They’re just trying to do their jobs which involves making the running of the company smoother and ironing out any of the areas you might need a bit of work with.
The same applies to friends. They’re your friends for a reason, they like and love you, and unless they’re one of those toxic ‘frenemies’, any criticisms on their side are probably designed to help you. Of course you don’t have to take their advice, and if they’re real friends, they’ll keep on loving you regardless, but sometimes their well-intentioned advice is worth at least considering from their point of view. Maybe it’s so you can be the best version of yourself. Who knows, but taking it from their point of view might have some merits.
Step 3: See it as an untapped strength
Say you’ve got a problem area at work. You’re not as diligent at filling out the paperwork, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ or maybe you’re not as huge a social media maven as you should be. That’s fine, it’s okay, but in the face of criticism, a key step might be in actively trying to transform that skill into something useful and marketable.
It might even be worth seeing it as a great opportunity for an untapped strength. Just because you haven’t focused on it yet doesn’t mean you can’t in the future. You have a fantastic opportunity ahead of you to make something that will improve your life in the long run, taking a bit longer to do that paperwork or even asking a colleague for advice on it, or looking at how other companies work well at their social media presence to fix your flaws. You’ll earn a lot more respect for being able to take on advice and do so while looking as cool and classy as hell.
Step 4: Work on the criticism as a challenge
This ties in a lot with the previous point but tackle this criticism as a challenge and as a conscious effort to change. Break it down in smaller and smaller tasks, such as speaking to your manager about what kind of targets they want you to hit or grabbing a coffee with a friend and asking them candidly, and make some concrete, physical ‘to-do’ lists so that you can tick them off as you work through them.
Not only will this make tackling the criticism seem infinitely more manageable, it’ll also ensure that you can celebrate all those little victories. Boosted your social media profile today? Go and have a scoop or two on us. Been a bit more social with your inner circle? Congratulate yourself and give yourself a treat.
Working on your ‘problem areas’ isn’t something you have to do, at all, but it might make you feel better for at least having tried and if you succeed, all the better. Take your victories one-by-one as you learn and grow. After all, tackling a mountain is much easier when you break it down into ten-minute climbs rather than the whole mountain, after all.
Step 5: Move on and look ahead
This is the final step and something that people find hard to do sometimes: just move on. Let it go.
While there is a remote possibility that your boss or friend or manager or whoever was maybe too harsh or critical on you, the point is how you react to it. Getting caught up and trapped in the machinations of it will only leave you to mope and mire through it, making you question every decision you’ve made, every interaction or choice or whatever.
Let it go and look to the future. I once had a job where I was critiqued on a regular, daily basis for things that I just didn’t understand or felt appropriate and it had such a negative impact on me that I had to get myself out of that environment and I had to force myself to examine how I looked at criticism. I learned that while those terrible, incompatible job experiences are few and far between, that feeling of dread when constructive criticism is offered can always remain, lurking in the background.
So I had to learn to move on. Your friend offering a bit of critical examination does not invalidate your years-long friendship. Your boss telling you that you need to work on something doesn’t wipe away all that awesome work you’ve spent the past six months doing. Moving on does not mean cutting off that bond or walking out of your job, unless that friendship or work environment is so toxic it’s more trouble than its worth to stay.
Move on and show growth and maturity. Getting hung up on this kind of stuff is something that expends a lot of time and energy and something you don’t really want to get involved. Don’t let anything hold you back and while a piece of criticism might seem utterly soul-crushing, it’s okay. You’ll be okay.
We have all been there and in the end, it doesn’t matter so much what that criticism is, but how you take it. After all, take that criticism with some humility and quiet grace, and you’ll come out looking the bigger person and feel better for it. Promise.