Criticism at work can affect every part of your life, adding stress during work hours and invading your thoughts outside the office. If you don't handle it well, negative feedback from your superiors and colleagues can ultimately derail your career.
You can't prevent being criticized, but controlling your own reaction can turn a negative situation into a positive one, says Alison Green, author of the "Ask a Manager" blog. "People too often take criticism as a personal attack, or as a signal that all the things they've done right aren't being appreciated," Green explains. Not all criticism is bad, and sometimes it can provide feedback that's valuable to your success.
1. Take time to really listen.
If a colleague or higher-up has something negative to say, don't disregard their comments even if you don't have a high opinion of the person. Instead of shutting down, stay objective about what he or she is saying (just as you would in any other situation).
"Be genuinely open to hearing what the other person is saying and try not to interrupt or jump to conclusions," says Curtis Odom, principal of Prescient Talent Strategist, a Boston-based talent management firm. Odom suggests using active listening techniques throughout the conversation like paraphrasing what you're hearing in your own words and making eye contact to show you're actively engaged.
2. Ask questions.
Even the slightest bit of negative criticism is easy to misinterpret.
Be prepared to ask follow-up questions during the conversation in order to prevent a bigger misunderstanding down the road. Asking questions not only shows that you're eager to figure out a solution, but the colleague's responses can help you gauge whether the negative feedback is relevant.
"Ask for specific examples and instances of the types of behavior that are at the root of the feedback," says Odom. "If the atmosphere is becoming tense, introduce a more positive approach by asking for examples of the behavior your reviewer would like to see more of."<
3. Don't get defensive.
Whether at work or at home, it's easy to get defensive when being criticized. Fight the urge and give your boss or co-worker a fair chance to express his or her thoughts. "The person giving you the feedback might have a reasonable point, which you'll never pick up on if you're busy thinking about how to defend yourself," says Green.
4. Stay calm.
Don't lose your cool, especially in a professional setting. "Being calm and rational is essential," says Caroline Dowd-Higgins, director career and professional development at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Save your anger for discussing the incident outside of work.
Think about whether it's the feedback or how it was given that's making you angry. Most of the time it's how the negative feedback was delivered rather than the content that people find offensive, explains Dowd-Higgins. "If feedback is presented in a constructive environment, criticism can be more easily digested," she says.
5. Determine if it's accurate.
Even if the criticism was conveyed in a startling way, there might be some truth to what your boss or colleague is saying. "Don't brush it off," says Green.
"Responding with a brusque 'okay' and nothing more makes it look like you're just interested in ending the conversation," Green says. Instead, take a step back to assess the situation. Speak to mentors, family members or others in your office to help you understand whether the criticism is valid.
6. Address the problem.
No matter who's at fault, it's important to address the problem, whether it's changing your own actions, acknowledging a misunderstanding or looking for others to change their ways.
If the negative feedback is coming from you boss, accepting the feedback can help you improve in the future, says Margaret Morford, chief executive of The HR Edge, a management consulting firm in Brentwood, Tenn. "When your boss sees that you can handle a little criticism without blowing it up into a huge uncomfortable discussion, he [or] she will get increasingly more candid and helpful feedback," she says.
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