How to Handle Criticism at Work

How to Handle Criticism at Work


Unlike the rest of the world, I was born perfect. Nothing needed to be changed about me from the moment I arrived, and I expect, until the moment I leave. It’s a bit challenging to be this perfect, but it’s my cross to bear, and I try to do it quietly.

Unless you’re like me, perfect, you might find occasions where your coworkers, partners, bosses, or even customers offer their opinion on how you could improve. Sometimes these suggestions are helpful, and sometimes they are physically impossible (is there somewhere that the sun doesn’t shine?), but what you do with these suggestions, and how you go about handling them, can have quite an impact on your career.

I have seen many different ways for people to cope with criticism, and here are few that seemed to be the most effective. For them, not for me. Remember, I was born perfect.

Listen

Whether you consider it feedback, complaining, whining, or constructive criticism, listen to what the other person has to say. This isn’t the time to get defensive or try to justify your actions. Just like any other discussion, let them finish what they are trying to say, and then take a moment to consider it. Is the person telling you how to do your job, or are they telling you the kind of help they need? Usually, criticism is coming from someone that wants to help you serve them better, so take the time to listen to what they have to say.

He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” — Abraham Lincoln

Consider

Consider the source, and then think through their suggestion. Is it something that you can possibly do? If you were to complete the task at hand in the way they are suggesting, would the final outcome be different?

Don’t get caught up in the blame-game. It doesn’t matter if “it’s procedure” or “this is the way I was taught how to do it.” Change comes through discussion, and providing all parties are actually interested in improving the end result, everything should be considered. Don’t write a person’s suggestion off because you think they don’t have a clue about what you do. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to create a great solution.

Discuss

Once they have shared their thoughts on the situation, and you have taken the time to consider the various possibilities, discuss the merits of their idea, as well as the possible challenges. Work together to determine how the solution would play out. Discuss who is responsible for each part of the solution. When will it happen? And if it doesn’t happen, what will be the consequences?

Measure

Once you have decided on a course of action, remember to measure the results. Tracking your progress to determine the final outcome is critical to your career. In the near future you can say that you were part of “x” initiative, and through collaboration you were able to take “a” all the way to “b”. Since it was a team effort, and you were part of the team as well as the one making the change, you can feel proud to share your success. Or, you might find through measurement that the suggestion is not better, and output was actually higher through the old system. This should lead to more feedback/critique to either revert back to the old way, or tweak the new system as you see fit.

Now, the above techniques only really work when you are talking about valid criticism. Personal attacks are a different matter, but you are probably more than confident enough to handle that kind of problem. Also, if you keep these techniques in mind before you supply someone with your constructive criticism, there is a good chance that you can work together to make a positive change.

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” — Winston Churchill


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After spending way too long in the corporate world, Jason has switched to full-time freelancing. With any luck you enjoyed this article - and if you need one of your very own, give him a shout! @brandscaping on the twitter, or at brandscaping.ca
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Discussion

  1. Andy Palmer on the 19th March

    My good friend and colleague gave me some great advice on receiving feedback, which is: “When someone gives you feedback, say thank you. Anything else you say should be based on what you will do different next time. Don’t try to justify what you did.”
    If you don’t think that you need to do anything differently, then you just say “Thank you for your feedback.”

    It’s great advice, and with practice, easy to stick to :-)

  2. Jason Finnerty on the 19th March

    Excellent suggestion Andy – sounds like you hang with a smart crowd!

    thanks for sharing

    J

  3. Julius on the 19th March

    Discussion, I think, is the stage that is least explored during a time when we receive criticism. Oftentimes, it’s “listen to what people have to say”, “be calm”, “find value in their criticism”, and “move on”.

    But similar to what you said, we may find more value if we sat down and discussed with the person what can be done to improve our work. Through this step, we can learn more things and eventually share our success with those who gave the comments.

  4. @brandscaping on the 19th March

    Glad you agree Julius – I find the discussion can lead to some pretty amazing ideas.
    er, I would, if anyone were to critique me.
    :-)

  5. The Simple Machine on the 21st March

    I think it depends on the situation. If you have someone who likes to impart advice because they are in position of power, then I would agree with Andy and say “I will look into in the future”. However, sometimes you need to stand up for what you believe to be right and explain yourself.

  6. Gary on the 23rd March

    I agree with “The Simple Machine”, it totally depends upon the situation. There are times when the feeback is given by a powerful person which demands a response. Though in most of these types of situation I end up giving a reason for my solution; if needed I also explain the reason for chosing this giving other alternative so as to prove that the one I chose was the best..

  7. Kübra Göze on the 29th March

    I agree with ‘I end up giving a reason for my solution, if needed I also explain the reason for giving other alternative chosing this so as to prove that the one I chose was the best ..’ Case is connected to a large share to remove ourselves how his share of failure, right? Situation often mean many things. Course do the best job in the hands of from. A possibility in case of luck. What is the chance. Somebady sys that: chance is to be prepared for opportunities. What is misfortune? Do not be prepared for bad deals?

  8. rgbgood on the 21st December

    “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” – Abraham Lincoln
    That’s very reasonable, rational to accept criticism of it.

  9. Sameer on the 9th October

    Lovely article. I hope you won’t mind if I link back to your article form my blog.

    Thanks

  10. Colin on the 12th July

    To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.

    - Elbert Hubbard

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