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Constructive Vs. Destructive Criticism At Work

Administrative assistants take great pride in their work and consistently strive to perform at their best. Taking strides to grow and develop as professionals, they’re often eager to find new ways to accelerate their careers. One of the most effective ways to do this, however, can often be one of the most difficult. Learning how to receive and embrace constructive criticism is a vital skill. Why is it so hard to do? Egos can get in the way of objectively examining the criticism to see if there is any wisdom or perspective for our growth and development. In this blog, we’ll explore how administrative assistants can embrace the power of criticism, distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism, develop a growth mindset around criticism, and ultimately, turn criticism into an opportunity for improvement.

Understanding the Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Criticism

Let’s first understand that criticism is not always helpful. There is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism is meant to help us improve and correct our mistakes, while destructive criticism is meant to harm or simply criticize without offering a solution. As executive assistants, we must be able to discern between the two types of criticism so we know how to best receive and act upon it. Let’s clearly define the two types of criticism:

Destructive Criticism

This type of criticism is often delivered in an aggressive or condescending manner and may not consider our feelings or perspectives. It can be damaging to our self-esteem, emotions, and confidence as it tends to focus more on what we did wrong rather than helping us learn from it. It often comes in the form of harsh words, insults, and belittling remarks that are intended to hurt rather than help. This type of criticism can leave you feeling discouraged, embarrassed, and even worthless. It can cause you to doubt your abilities and second-guess every decision you make. Destructive criticism can also have a long-term effect on confidence levels as it tends to focus more on what went wrong rather than offering solutions or advice for improvement. This type of conflict within the workplace needs to be addressed.

Constructive Criticism

On the other hand, constructive criticism is usually delivered in a way that is respectful and aims to help improve our work. It will often come with solutions or ideas on how we can do better the next time. It can be an incredibly valuable tool for administrative assistants. It offers an opportunity to receive feedback from those we work with and learn how to improve our skills and performance. Constructive criticism is intended to help us grow professionally, providing guidance on how to do better in the future. When delivered respectfully and objectively, constructive criticism can provide invaluable insight into our strengths and weaknesses as well as offer suggestions on ways we can improve our performance. With a growth mindset around receiving constructive criticism, administrative assistants have the potential to develop their skills and become more effective leaders within their organizations. Taking constructive criticism can be turned into a superpower!

Chart comparing constructive criticism to destructive criticism. Constructive criticism has values like respectful, encouraging, sensitive and objective. Destructive criticism includes aggressive, condescending, disrespectful and harsh characteristics.

Preparing to Receive Criticism

Let’s face it: Receiving any criticism can be challenging. To prepare ourselves, it’s best to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Remember: Constructive criticism is not an attack on your character. Instead, it’s an opportunity for growth and improvement. As such, it’s vital to approach the conversation with an open mind and willing attitude to hear the feedback and incorporate it into our work.

Active listening is a critical component of receiving criticism. It’s important to carefully listen to what is being said without reacting too quickly with defensiveness or interruptions. Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions before hearing the full feedback. It’s essential to keep an objective and growth-oriented mindset when receiving feedback. Stay open and calm. Take a deep breath if you need to. Recognizing that everyone has areas for improvement and that learning from mistakes is crucial to growth and development can help us approach criticism with a positive outlook. 

Developing a Growth Mindset Around Criticism

One of the keys to embracing the power of criticism is to understand that any moment you’re provided critical feedback should be seen as an opportunity for growth, improvement, evolution, and development. Instead of taking the criticism as a personal attack or failure, look for ways to apply the feedback and grow from it. A growth mindset also encourages us to challenge ourselves and take risks in order to gain new experiences and knowledge. It helps us focus on progress rather than perfection by setting realistic goals for improvement and celebrating our successes along the way. With this type of attitude towards criticism, we can use it as a tool for success by taking each piece of feedback into consideration and using it to improve our skills.

After receiving criticism, it’s important to keep perspective. We must remind ourselves that one mistake doesn’t define us and that we can all improve at any stage during our careers. Avoid over-analyzing the criticism and instead, focus on the solution or the takeaway.

Seeking support from others can help us keep perspective. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or discouraged by negative feedback, but having someone to talk to can help us process criticism and identify actionable steps for improvement. Sometimes, it’s helpful to express our feelings and process what happened. Friends and family can provide an empathetic ear and offer words of encouragement, reminding us of our strengths and accomplishments. They can also offer a fresh perspective and help us see the situation in a different light.

If you have a mentor you can turn to, that can be very helpful, too. Mentors can offer professional guidance. They may have experience in our field and be able to provide specific suggestions for improvement. They can also challenge us to think critically and push us to excel in our work.

Regardless of whom we seek support from, it’s important to be open and honest about our feelings and the feedback we receive so that the person can provide relevant and helpful advice. Seeking support after we receive criticism is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength and a willingness to improve. 

Learning How to Respond to Criticism Appropriately

When constructive criticism is provided, we should take a moment to consider our response before we react. Consider the perspective of the person delivering the message and try putting yourself on the other side of the desk. Avoid becoming defensive, overly sensitive, making assumptions about the criticizer’s intentions, attacking the criticizer, or making excuses. Instead, thank the criticizer for their feedback, acknowledge the issue, and work on finding a solution. When responding to criticism, it’s essential to always remain calm and professional. 

Be sure to ask clarifying questions to avoid any misunderstandings and ensure you’ve really understood the feedback. Ask thoughtful questions such as:

  • “What do you think I could have done differently?”
  • “How would you suggest I approach this situation?” 
  • “How can I handle this better next time?”

These types of questions will show that you are actively engaging with the criticism and willing to learn from it. Asking for details can serve to depersonalize the criticism, making it less about what you did wrong and more about how to approach something in the best way possible. Taking notes during the conversation can also be helpful for retaining important points and suggestions. This not only shows the person providing the feedback that you are taking their comments seriously, but it also serves as a reference for future improvements and areas of focus. If possible, identifying potential solutions for problems or mistakes can be helpful. At the end of the conversation, be sure to thank the criticizer for their time, thoughtful feedback, help, and consideration.

Looking for The Lesson

Criticism can be difficult to hear, but as administrative assistants, it’s important that we use it to our advantage. The best thing you can do is shift your mindset about criticism. Don’t view it as a terrible, awful thing. Turn it into an opportunity for improvement. This simple but powerful shift can really open up your work and help you grow and improve. Always look for the lesson. 

If you’re ready to reach that next level of success, Office Dynamics can help. We developed a huge library of resources that focuses on helping executive assistants master all the key functions required in their role, become strategic partners with their leaders, and reach incredible levels of professional success. You will find them in our Success Store.


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