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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 April 9, 2020

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common types of leadership and how you can determine which works best for you.

5 Types of Leadership Styles

I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

The Democratic Style

The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

    The Autocratic Style

    The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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    The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

    While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

      The Transformational Style

      Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

      Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

      Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

        The Transactional Style

        Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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        The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

        The Laissez-Faire Style

        The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

        In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

        Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

        You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

        Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

        The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

        Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

        I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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        In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

        What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

        Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

        1. Context Matters

        Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

        2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

        When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

        As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

        “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

        The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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        As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

        When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

        The Way Forward

        To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

        As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

        “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

        The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

        If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

        Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

        Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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