How to Handle Criticism at Work

January 19, 2017

“You’re not perfect.” Those simple words can be a shock to many people who have always been told how great their work is, only to watch it get ripped apart by a new boss or someone else with a different vision for the product. Criticism is part of the job, and the ability to handle criticism, constructive or not, will determine how far you make it in your career. 

Here are some tips for handling criticism:

Your Boss is Not Your Enemy… Everything your boss says and does is supposed to be for the betterment of the company, even being critical of staff. Bosses want to see the company succeed, because it makes them look good, too. When they scrutinize your work, try to understand that their analysis is not about you, but about the results. If your boss is a real leader, you should look at him or her as a teammate whose critiques are aimed at improving the work flow, increasing revenue, and improving productivity. Even if you feel your work is beyond repair, just listen to what you’re being told and try to see it from your boss’s point of view. At the end of the day, you’re just an employee, and this is not your company. Try things your manager’s way, and if it becomes too much of a burden to do so, start looking for a job that will provide more ownership over your work output.

Sit Under the Learning Tree… If you are receiving constructive criticism and are angry that your boss did not completely love your work, then you’re missing the point of constructive criticism. This is an opportunity to learn and grow as an employee. Not only are you gaining a different perspective on how to complete a task, but you are getting an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and complete your work in a manner that completely satisfies your employer. Yes, supervisors love employees who knock it out of the park on the first try, but they know everyone will face adversity at some point in their lives. Your ability to take criticism and turn out a winning product is a valuable quality that a company wants in its staff.  It can even open up an opportunity to develop a mentor-mentee relationship with your boss. This is important, because networking is often the avenue to finding future jobs. The more mentors you have, the better your chances at advancing your career are. Now, if you don’t respect your boss, you need to find another job.

It’s OK to Disagree… While you should try to comply with your supervisor’s instructions, there are going to be times when you completely disagree with the direction. That’s OK. Depending on the time crunch, you should be able to voice that concern in a professional matter. If there is time, you can discuss your apprehension right in the moment, but if you have a pressing deadline, you should wait until the workload becomes more bearable before setting up a meeting with your boss to voice your thoughts. You should not trash the edits made to your work. Never put your boss on the defensive. Instead, express your understanding of the edits before explaining why you had previously gone with a different approach. Then ask your manager’s opinion on why that direction might not have been the best to take. It shows you value your supervisor’s opinion while demonstrating a desire to see your brand succeed. You might learn a little more about why your strategy is wrong for what the company wants so that you can anticipate your supervisor’s needs. Or, you might sway your employer to see things differently.   

Develop a Thick Skin… Never let your boss see you get emotional. It will be used against you in the future. No, they won’t call you a cry baby (I should hope they wouldn’t), but they may see you in a less flattering light that will impact future assignments and opportunities at work. You can’t let criticism get to you, even if your boss actually turns out to be your enemy and provides criticisms that are nasty and unwarranted. Always keep your head up, never get defensive… and if you have to, lie and tell your boss you understand. If this job is causing you unnecessary stress, and you can’t handle the critiques, just do what you can to survive in the office while conducting a dedicated job search at home. Let your supervisor’s critique empower you to do better somewhere else and make your boss eat their words. Don’t give your boss power by showing how much their criticism hurts you. 

Show Respect… When criticism is constructive, take the opportunity to thank your boss for offering a different perspective. You can use this criticism as a way to build a relationship with your boss. Be professional and courteous at all times and let your follow-up work speak for itself. As I said earlier, when you prove you can handle criticism, it demonstrates that you are coachable and could be a valuable asset as you grow into your role. When the criticism is not constructive, remain respectful of your boss. Be the better person. And then, when you get a new job, let your future success be your greatest revenge.

by Jon Minners

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