9 Ways to Cope with Criticism

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Do find yourself hating appraisals because you are afraid of what your Manager might say about you? Do you react really badly to criticism? If you do, you’re not alone. No one likes being told they’ve done badly and some of us go out of our way to avoid any kind of negative feedback at all! But getting upset and angry isn’t going to help.

Instead work on keeping an open mind and learn to use criticism to your benefit so that you learn and become more effective.

The first thing to realise is that no one is perfect. And criticism can contain valuable feedback that will help you to identify your weaknesses and perform better.

But how do you tell when criticism is fair or unfair and how do you handle it?

Fair versus unfair criticism

You need to be able to tell them apart so that you can respond in the best way.

Fair criticism is given in a respectful, non-threatening way. It’s factual and focuses on actions you can take to improve rather than on you as a person. So, your Manager might say to you after a presentation, “Your presentation wasn’t as punchy as it could have been. If you’d had less slides and concentrated on your audience, people would’ve listened more to you. Try more pictures next time too”.

This gives you something to work on and it’s a criticism of your slides and / or presentation, not you as a person. If you’re going to see this as a failure, it’s a failure of something you did and shouldn’t make you feel that you are a failure as a person.

On the other hand, unfair criticism is usually harsh, unspecific, personal and possibly given in a public place where there are plenty of people listening.

Handling fair criticism

When we’re criticised, our first reaction can be to feel defensive and angry. After all, criticism implies that we’ve done something wrong or that we’re lacking in some way.

But no one is perfect and we all make mistakes at some time or other. If you’ve never made a mistakes it means you never stretch yourself outside your comfort zone or take risks. We need to take risks and make mistakes to develop our skills and learn.

How can you react better to reasonable criticism?

1. Change your mindset

Look at criticism as an opportunity to learn and do better. The person offering the feedback usually wants you to improve. Start the conversation on the right note by approaching the feedback with an open mind and try to be grateful that someone’s taking the time and effort to give you feedback.

If you feel yourself becoming defensive, then be aware of this and try not to let your emotions overwhelm you. If you find this difficult you might want to work on your emotional intelligence skills.

2. Disconnect

Fair criticism is about something you’ve done or said, not about you as a person. Just because you made a mistake doesn’t make you a bad person. Try to see the truth in what the other person is saying.

3. Listen carefully

Really listen to what’s being said. It’s easy to just nod in apparent agreement, while, in reality, you’re busy thinking about how you are going to defend yourself as soon as the other person has stopped speaking. Listen actively so that you understand exactly what they’re saying.

4. Take your time

Don’t respond straight away. Take a breather and give yourself time to assemble your thoughts. You might want to use a technique such as the 60 second tranquilliser, to calm down before you say anything. Because, when we respond too quickly, we can say things we regret and appear childish and unprofessional.

If you need a bit longer to calm down, then ask for some time to think about your response, and come back with it later.

5. Summarise or paraphrase the criticism

Repeat what the person just said to you in your own words to make sure you’ve completely understood. Stay calm, resist any temptation to be sarcastic or aggressive and rephrase what you think they’ve said. Something like “So if I understand you correctly, you think that…”

6. Find the facts

Sometimes people feel awkward giving criticism and it can come out as vague or waffling. If so, ask questions. You need to find out what the real issue is so that you can deal with it. So, if your Manager says, “The proposal you did wasn’t up to standard”, then get details. What didn’t he or she like about it?

7. Admit any mistakes

When you take responsibility for something that hasn’t worked out as it should, you’re demonstrating professionalism and maturity. If you’re wrong, admit it and apologise. When you agree with your critic it puts you both on common ground and can often mean you get great support to rectify the mistake.

8. Learn from it

Fair criticism can help us improve, if we let ourselves learn from it. So, spend some time thinking about what happened and what your critic said. Come up with a plan for how you’re going to do things differently so that you don’t make the same mistake again.

9. Be grateful

This can be hard if you are still smarting and struggling to deal with the criticism but when you’ve gained a clearer perspective on it, thank the person for taking the time to give you feedback. A lot of people feel very uncomfortable giving criticism and find it very hard, so appreciate the effort. Let them know they have helped you and what you’ve learned from the experience.

Changing your mindset about criticism means you don’t just learn from the feedback but you are seen as a mature, professional open to learning and development. You need never dread an appraisal again!

If you would like to help your employees handle criticism better contact me now for a free, no obligation discussion.   Whether we end up working with each other or not, I am sure we will both benefit from the conversation.


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