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How to Deal With Critics at Work

by Dan Ketchum

If impending deadlines, traffic-packed commutes and angry customers aren't enough, workplace critics often rear their heads at just the wrong time. Because every job, employee and critic varies widely, there is no one “right” way to deal with criticism at work; it takes a combination of a cool head and an open-minded perspective to accept feedback and understand that not all criticism comes with negative intent.

Receive It

Dealing with workplace critics starts with a calm, professional reception. Listen when someone gives you feedback, even if it sounds critical, and avoid interrupting. Rather than snapping back, ask questions; find out why your boss or co-worker feels the way they do. As natural as it feels, never get defensive -- doing so closes you off to what might be valuable feedback. If criticism makes you want to defend yourself instinctively, don't hesitate to take a little time to process it. Thank your colleague and tell her that you hear what she's saying and you want to take a little time to think it over. Let yourself feel the initial emotional reaction, but wait until you've emotionally processed the criticism to address it with a clear head.

Address It

Even after you receive criticism with a cool demeanor, knowing whether or not the feedback is valid can be a challenge. Without making a commotion, ask trusted colleagues if they feel the same way -- they may have avoided broaching the topic until it was brought into the open. If you approach criticism with a little time to mull it over and with opinions from a few different sources, you may find that criticism turns into helpful advice. Likewise, recurring themes in criticism from different sources likely indicate a genuine issue. Incorporate the feedback rather than shrug it off. This shows you're willing to accept the opinions of others and make changes to become a better employee -- an especially important factor in an employer-employee relationship.

Do the Unexpected

When you're on the receiving end of criticism, don't let it haunt your or follow you out of the workplace. Instead, stay positive. Always assume that the critic comes from a helpful place, no matter how she delivers the message. Avoiding cynicism helps you process genuinely helpful criticism, and in the rare cases when workplace critics are actually trying to hurt you, a positive response instantly deflects their plans. Rather than shutting critics down, seek criticism; looking for feedback shows humility and makes it clear you have an honest desire to improve the quality of your work. Put simply, asking for criticism prepares you to receive it, and it turns criticism into a dialogue rather than a deluge of notes.

Draw the Line

While it's healthy to accept and respond to valid criticism, don't lose self-respect. Genuine criticism never includes insults, derogatory remarks or name-calling. If your critic relies on these tactics, tell her you respect her opinion, but you need to hear it delivered respectfully. On the flip side, avoid the temptation to immediately respond to criticism with criticism of your own; in most cases, your criticism here simply results from a desire to defend yourself.

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.

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