How To Leverage Criticism At Work

Autumn is here and I’m loving it. Are you enjoying the cooler weather of fall?

I love fall (yes, even in Las Vegas). To me, fall represents cozying up at home, days ending a little earlier, a new television season, football, cooler evenings and mornings, sweater weather and . . . pumpkin. I am so ready for fall, that I recently brought a pumpkin-scented candle into work for my office, bought pumpkin caramel corn from Trader Joes (for an office staff treat) and am enjoying my pumpkin spice coffee. Yes, I am definitely ready for fall. Life is good!

As long as we are in the workplace, we are going to be criticized at some point by someone about something. Sometimes it hurts when we are criticized, especially when we think we’ve done a good job or handled a situation the best we could. Many people take criticism about their work personally. They carry it with them all day and bring it home to their families. When this happens, their work is affected, their attitude toward co-workers and customers is affected, and they make costly mistakes.

When we disagree with the criticism, we can become so intent on defending ourselves that we lose perspective. We reject the criticizer along with the criticism, rather than objectively examining the criticism to see if there is any wisdom or perspective to be gained for our growth and development. Often, we build our case to justify what we did and why. We become stressed out and angry. Our pulse races, our stomach hurts and we wonder, “Why?” instead of “Why not?”

It’s true that not all criticism is justifiable. Not all criticism is correct or even offered in a healthy way. But we are not in control of others; we are “only” in control of ourselves. Fortunately, that is exactly what is necessary to turn criticism, of any kind, into something we can leverage toward greatness.

Looking for the Lesson

If you find it difficult to accept the criticism, you might be focusing too much on extraneous factors. These are things people let get in the way so they never really hear the message the sender is trying to communicate. Some of these factors include the type of criticism (vicious or enlightening); who is doing the criticizing (someone you dislike or someone you admire); and the tone of voice (sarcastic or encouraging).

Not all people know how to give or accept criticism. Most of us have not taken “Criticism 101” in school! But criticism can be a learning experience if you view it positively.

When being criticized about your work performance, disregard the criticizer’s body language, tone of voice and facial expression. Instead, focus on the context of what is being said. Then ask yourself, “Could this person be right? Could I have done better? Should I have handled that situation differently? What can I learn from what they are telling me?”

It’s a Matter of Perspective

When you get down to the core of criticism or feedback, it really has to do with people having different perspectives. You see something one way and your leader sees it another way. An administrative peer thinks his process for approaching meeting planning is the best way and you feel your approach is better. In reality, you both may be right—your views are just different.

This is often seen in coaching work, where a consultant may be asked to work within a company. The consultant meets with the administrators regarding their professional image, the manner in which they do their work or their workflow processes. The administrators think they are doing a good enough job or that they look professional, but that thinking is from only “one side” of the desk.

The next time your leader critiques your work, actions, speech, or reaction, take a moment to consider how they see the situation from their side of the desk. Ask for details or ask them to explain how they see what they see. (Asking for details depersonalizes the criticism). It will open your world and help you become even better.

Bottom line: we can use criticism to our advantage. We would love to hear your comments below.
Joan Burge

Founder and CEO

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