The Secret to Dealing with Criticism (and Avoiding Tears) at Work

Oct 23, 2013 -

No matter who you are and no matter your job, no one likes to get criticized. However, it’s an unfortunate reality that you will face criticism at work.

Criticism takes many forms and has many purposes, most of which you can’t control. What you can control, however, is how you respond to it. Will you be cool and calm or will you, well, kind of lose it?

Keeping it together in the face of unpleasant feedback is a mark of real professionalism. So, with that as your end goal, here are a few tactics to help you avoid embarrassing meltdowns, job-endangering rage fits or even just lingering (and potentially job-ruining) disappointment:

Remove yourself from the situation

If at all possible, coolly and calmly excuse yourself from the presence of the person giving you feedback. Simply saying something like, “Thanks for your input. Will you excuse me for a moment?” should work just fine.

It can be very, very difficult to control your emotions in the face of harsh criticism — so don’t try. Just get yourself out of there as gracefully as you can.

If you’re in the middle of a meeting and can’t take a bathroom break, calm yourself down by mentally escaping and thinking about things that make you happy: your best friends, your puppy, your upcoming vacation.

Vent—but choose your ventees wisely

Many people like to talk through things that upset them. It’s a great coping mechanism… with two caveats.

First, if you can avoid it, don’t vent to coworkers. It can be hard to know where people’s allegiances lie, or even just if they’re any good at keeping things confidential.

Second, if your coworker is your best friend and your go-to person for venting, do not (repeat: do NOT) discuss it at work! The very last thing you need after getting criticized is for someone to overhear you “complaining” about it. If that gets around — or worse, gets back to the criticizer — it’s going to look pretty bad for you.

Wait until drinks after work. It’s a great excuse for a margarita, anyway.

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Once you’ve cooled down a bit, go back to talk to the person who gave you the criticism.

I know; this is the person you least want to see, but bear with me. Everyone’s communication style is different. What’s “criticism” for you, could just be “feedback” for her.

Schedule some private time with the person who gave you the criticism to ask questions about what she said. Let her know you’re just looking to best utilize her feedback, and ask things like, “Could you be more specific about _______?” or “I understood that you meant _______. Did I get that right?”

You may discover you weren’t even being “criticized” at all!

Figure out what you can learn from it

Again, wait until you’re calm for this step. But in almost all of even the most heinous pieces of criticism, there is some lesson you can apply to make yourself a better person.

Think through the criticism. Try to restate it to yourself without any anger or frustration. For example, say your boss shouted, “This report is unacceptable! My third-grade daughter could have done a better job!” (Especially cruel, but you see what I’m getting at.)

Restating that without emotion, it might become, “This report is disappointing to me. There are more mistakes in here than I think are acceptable, and it’s not as thorough as I’d like it to be.”

Figuring out what you can learn from criticism gives you action steps to improve your performance and, hopefully, help you avoid getting criticized in the future.

Figure out your optimal feedback style

OK, so you know you’re going to have to get feedback throughout your career. One of the best ways to make sure that feedback is constructive and usable is to plan ahead. How and when are you most receptive to feedback?

Some people like immediate feedback; others need time. Some like itemized issues; others prefer the big picture. The list goes on, but you get the picture: Figure out what works best for you.

Then, let your boss (or the people giving you feedback most often) know. After all, what’s the point in knowing how you best receive input if they don’t give it in that way?

Communicating this can be as simple as, “Thanks so much for the feedback; I really appreciate your input. In the future, though, I take feedback best in private/in writing/in person/etc. Would it be possible to set up our feedback sessions like this?”

Criticism can be difficult to receive, but it can also be beneficial for your professional development. Looking at it in a new light and dealing with it effectively can help you take any feedback in stride.

How do you deal with criticism? Do you have any additional techniques to share? Let us know in the comments below! Nicki Krawczyk is a copywriter, copy coach and founder of Filthy Rich Writer, an online resource for new and aspiring copywriters. She helps people take charge of their careers, craft their own unique selling points and perspectives and market themselves or their businesses to the world. You can get access to her free Break Into Copywriting ebook here and find her on Twitter at @nickikr.