Dealing With Criticism At Work

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You’ve probably worked with someone who responded to criticism the wrong way.  They may have been defensive, yelled, blamed someone or something other than themselves, pointed out others making the same mistake, and promptly started a campaign around the workplace against the boss who corrected their missteps.  Responding like that can hurt an employee’s reputation and their future earning potential.  To avoid these missteps, learn appropriate ways to take criticism from a supervisor.  We’re going to borrow from the “Workin’ It Out” curriculum that is instructed in the IowaWORKS-Southern Iowa office on how to handle criticism.

The first step is to Stop and Think.  A reply created from your immediate emotional response will not be the best defense.  Remember that anger is a physical reaction and your body will show the reaction even when you’re trying not to.  You might speak louder than you intend, your face might get red, and you might have a clenched jaw.  Give yourself time to calm down before responding to criticism.

Second, Listen Carefully.  Most of the time a supervisor offers criticism there is a reason behind it.  That reason may be caused by a misunderstanding or inaccuracy, but you won’t be able to resolve that without hearing what the supervisor is telling you.

Next be sure to Show You Understand.  Nod affirmatively and reflect back the issue to the supervisor.  Accept that this is an issue that needs to be resolved, even if you do not believe that you are in the wrong.  If your supervisor believes one exists, the best response is to accept accountability for your share of the problem.

Fourth, Ask for Help.  You understand the problem, now ask your supervisor to help you with solutions that can keep it from occurring again.  They may have a simple way to resolve the issue so it doesn’t come up again, or they may be willing to dig in and offer their own support.

Lastly, Explain Your Side.  Accept responsibility for the part of the problem that is yours, ask for help to keep it from occurring again, and then explain why it happened.  This is where you can clear up misunderstandings or misconceptions that the supervisor has.  This isn’t a time to place the full blame onto someone or something else because you are the one in control of your work, but this is a chance to offer an explanation from your point of view.

And once this process has happened: let it go.  Take the advice from your supervisor and genuinely try to apply it to your work.  Don’t head back to your favorite coworker and start complaining about the boss, as what you say can only come back to bite you.  Learn from the mistake and move on.  That shows growth.

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