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How To Handle Criticism Well

How To Handle Criticism Well

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More by this author

Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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