Accepting positive and negative criticism

Learning to accept criticism makes you a better employee and, in time, a better boss

No one wants to hear that they’ve made a mistake or that they’re not living up to their potential at work, but dealing with criticism is part of being a professional. You’re not infallible, and thinking that you’re incapable of making mistakes will only hurt you, your job performance, and your reputation. In contrast, accepting constructive criticism reveals an employee who listens, strives to improve, and has enough humility to recognize the areas that need a bit of spit and polish.

Although some people are naturally open to criticism, whether it’s positive or negative, others don’t know how to take it. Don’t worry if you’re in that boat. Dealing with criticism is something you can learn. It’s an essential skill unless it’s your aim to come off as a stubborn know-it-all of an employee who gets angry rather than listen to the advice of your colleagues and leaders.

Step back from your first reaction

Don’t jump to defend yourself or get angry the moment someone brings a piece of constructive criticism to you. That only makes you look bad because it seems as if you can’t handle any kind of criticism. Furthermore, anger stops you from thinking and learning. The second you get heated because a coworker or manager says you made a mistake or need to improve a particular area, that’s the moment you’ve lost the plot. You’ll never learn or grow if you give in to your first instinct to get angry or justify your actions. Take a breath and wait it out.

Figure out why you’re defensive

Why are you so defensive? Why do you feel this way rather than simply dealing with positive and negative criticism? Most often, people react defensively to advice or lectures about their mistakes because of pride. To some, being called out is embarrassing. It makes them feel ashamed or less valuable. You might have trouble admitting that you’re wrong, or maybe there’s something deeper going on in your mind. It’s worth exploring if you can’t get a handle on it. A defensive attitude impedes growth, making it worth your while to discover why your pride makes dealing with criticism so difficult.

Stop viewing mistakes as failures

Your mistakes aren’t failures. Just because there are areas that need improvement, that does not mean that you aren’t successful or that you’re bad at your job. Viewing mistakes as failures is another reason you might act defensively in response to critical and constructive feedback. However, each misstep you take is a lesson. You can’t improve if you don’t know where you need improvement. No one goes into any job knowing all the details or knowing how to do everything correctly. Give yourself time and space to learn and grow. You don’t stop discovering new things just because you’re an adult.

Realize that you can’t improve without critique

What would you rather have your managers do? In lieu of accepting positive and negative criticism, would you rather continue making the same mistakes or turning in sub-par work? Without constructive feedback, you won’t get better.

What you do is irrelevant—if you’re a sales manager, an editor, or a travel agent, you’ll stagnate in your job unless you open yourself up to the opinions and advice of your superiors and colleagues. You aren’t weak or a failure for accepting criticism. You’re actually taking steps to become an all-star employee. Your bosses will see that you take their criticism and apply it immediately to your work, which reflects well on you.

Consider the source

Not all criticism is constructive or even conducive. You always have to consider the source. You can’t discount advice just because it comes from someone you don’t like. A manager or supervisor with whom you don’t get along can still offer helpful advice. However, it’s not unheard of for coworkers or colleagues who don’t have your best interest at heart to offer criticism that’s meant to harm you rather than help you. Don’t feel that you have to accept a lecture from someone who finds fault with everything you do or does a poor job on their own.

Learn the difference between constructive and destructive criticism

You’re under no obligation to blindly accept all criticism. Just as you consider who’s offering the critique, you also need to think about where the criticism comes from, particularly if it’s coming from a positive or negative place. It’s a sad but true fact that people sometimes bring down others, especially in a work environment. If a piece of critique seems spiteful, vindictive, or far-fetched, trust your instincts and ask for a second opinion. You can receive advice that’s designed to bring you down rather than improve your performance, so don’t hesitate to ask other managers and leaders for their opinions.

Listen to what’s said

Instead of being defensive, be mindful and listen to what your coworker or supervisor says. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of the message. In dealing with criticism, once you open up to it, you frequently discover easier or more efficient ways to perform your tasks at work. Moreover, the advice you receive from your boss or leader can reveal your strengths and weaknesses as an employee, but you won’t learn those lessons if you refuse to let yourself hear them. It’s unlikely that your superiors will want to continue working with someone who shuts down their critiques.

Stop trying to justify yourself

Jumping to explain yourself makes you seem guilty, unwilling to listen, and stubborn. It’s off-putting and suggests that you don’t have the qualities of a valuable employee. Ask yourself why your first instinct is to justify listing your potential customer leads in the wrong format or failing to fill out a report properly. Are there any justifications for your mistake, or are you just allowing your pride to speak up instead of admitting that you aren’t perfect? Stop explaining away your mistakes and own up to them instead. You’ll learn more, and your employer will have more respect for you.

Deconstruct your feedback with questions

To show that you’re not only listening but also dealing with criticism in a constructive, worthwhile manner, talk to your boss about the situations she or he addresses. Ask for specific examples regarding your mistakes and performance. Go a step further and ask for advice about how to correctly perform the task. If you have issues with accomplishing a job the way your boss expects you to do it, then be honest and tell your supervisor how and why you’re having problems. Being truthful and taking a proactive approach will impress your superiors.

Look for help

You might need outside help. That’s fine—admirable, in fact. Needing help does not make you a failure, nor does it make you weak. It’s time to ditch that mindset or else you’ll never reach the heights of success you dream about. Talk to colleagues who excel in the areas that give you problems. Find a work mentor who can give you tips, look over your work, and steer you in the right direction. Your bosses will take notice. Everyone loves the employees who take the bull by the horns and address their issues themselves.

Ask for a follow-up

The most professional and impressive way of dealing with criticism is to use it. After receiving your critique, put the advice you received into practice, then ask for a follow-up review to discuss your progress. Doing this shows your employer that you’re open to feedback and that you put it into practice immediately. That’s one way to build a sterling reputation in your company. You may not always agree with the changes you make, but if they please your manager, improve your performance, and make you look good, then they’re worth it.

Stop taking it personally

Unless it’s destructive criticism coming from a negative person or place, critique isn’t personal. You’re not being singled out by management for no reason. Your superiors simply saw a deficit in your performance, your leadership style, or a technique that you use. That doesn’t mean that you’re terrible at everything you do or that your work record is full of mistakes. It just means there are a few things you need to improve.

You won’t get by in any professional environment unless you’re open to accepting positive and negative criticism. If you’re willing to accept praise, then you have to listen to your weaknesses.

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