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How to Handle Criticism at Work: A Beginner’s Guide

Wise people prefer to benefit from constructive criticism rather than be ruined by false praise - Shiv Khera

Receiving criticism at work — for most of us, it isn’t a question of if, but when. And still, the thought of being critiqued (even with noble intentions) can send shivers down the spines of the most seasoned professionals. All this, despite the fact that professional criticism can be highly beneficial for our personal and career growth. 

So why do we have such a hard time with this, and how should we handle it when it comes? Here are some suggestions for handling criticism at work the right way.

Understand your brain! 

Receiving criticism from a place of maturity requires some serious emotional intelligence. The human brain’s reward system releases dopamine (the “pleasure” chemical) when we receive positive feedback — such as praise. On the other hand, the brain releases cortisol (the “stress” chemical) when we feel threatened, unaccepted, or criticized. That’s why becoming defensive in the face of criticism is such a common human response. To avoid this discomfort, we often choose fight (reacting with anger and defensiveness) or flight (creating distance, as a measure of safety). 

Thankfully, we can use our brain’s higher order structures to “outsmart” these deeper, more reactive tendencies. 

How so? 

Listen and remain calm

There’s no doubt about it, staying calm while receiving professional criticism can be tough! But the importance of staying attentive can’t be understated. The better you are at processing feedback in real time, the better you’ll be at fashioning a response later.  Want more on this? Check out some tools successful people use to remain calm in potentially stressful situations. 

Pro tip: Remember, you don’t have to agree to listen!

Don’t rush your response 

Attempting to address every detail in real time can make you come across as defensive. Be patient and let the words sink in. If available, grab a pen and paper and start writing important points down. Remember, you may not be the only one feeling uncomfortable in this interaction. Your boss, colleague, or client likely spent time thinking about the best way to deliver their message to you. 

Don’t take professional criticism personally 

Let’s imagine your boss or co-workers think they can help you find a more efficient way to work through a project. In the vast majority of cases, they are critiquing your work (or in this case, your workflow), as opposed to you as a person. Try paying attention to the substance of their feedback, rather than letting any misinterpreted feelings of rejection get the best of you. 

Assume good intentions 

Always operate under the assumption that the criticism you are receiving is coming from a good place, even if you feel it misses the mark. This “innocent until proven guilty” mindset will greatly increase the chances of progress being made by both sides. It will also help you grow professionally, since communication of this sort is essential in the workplace. 

But what if my critic is wrong/difficult/completely intolerable? 

We’ve all been here, and it’s a perfectly fair question. The answer is pretty simple. Everything above still applies!

Even if you feel your critic is dead wrong, your best course of action is to remain patient, so as not to trigger an emotional response from them. Alternatively, some of their points might end up making more sense when you reconsider them later. Or maybe the problem comes from a misperception on their part, or lacking communication on yours. In all of these cases, it’s far better to maintain your poise, hear the person out, and respond with calmness and objectivity. 

Final Word

No matter their craft, all elite professionals have been critiqued at one point or another. Ultimately criticism at work is what you make of it: a tool that will help you reach your loftiest goals, or a vehicle that will run right over your confidence. 

So choose wisely!

By: The Judge Team

Topics : Articles, Judge Tips

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