Criticism is a part of life; you will never avoid it and sometimes you deserve it. That is a fact. However, very few people really know how to take it and value it as an important part of learning and development. Yes, sometimes it can be harsh and hurtful. Sometimes it can be unfair and delivered in a manner devoid of empathy and sympathy. Generally, though, it is worthwhile and how you react to it can actually be an indicator of your resilience and your ability to listen.
I can clearly remember the first “spray” I received in my recruitment career. It happened at about 7.00pm on a Thursday evening. My manager walked back into the office and I was still working with a colleague before she unloaded with a tirade. A shortlist was presented to a client and it had spelling errors in it. This was in the era where we actually retyped all resumes so it was our fault. The irony of this was that I had not prepared any of the resumes; nor had my colleague who was there working with me at the time (and he is still working with me all of 20 years later). However, we took full responsibility and sat and retyped the resumes while being accused of not being intelligent enough to spell and having no pride in our work. It was a shock, and the fury of the tirade did rattle me. I really respected my manager and still do, however, she could blow a gasket so to speak and it was no use rationalising with her when she was angry. Yes, it was unfair. However, there were some great lessons for me in this. I never presented a shortlist with errors again and I took a great deal of pride in ensuring that my work was accurate.
I think that there are some things to always do when you are receiving criticism and some things to avoid doing:
- Try to understand why you are being criticised. In the example outlined above, I understood that my manager was humiliated in front of a customer producing work of a poor standard. She was a perfectionist and this client was difficult and he let her have it about the quality of work she produced. She was always going to be cross and took it out on me because I was in the office; pure and simple. It was not personal; it was frustration boiling over because her standards had not been met.
- Be honest with yourself about it. It is a habit that we all get into from time to time where we recalibrate the truth to suit our own agenda. Sometimes we stuff up – own the problem and solve it. Don’t try to be loose with the truth so that you become a victim. It is exhausting and you never learn anything from being a victim.
- Ask for clarification if you are not certain. Often, criticism is delivered from a place where people are not 100% confident with the context and as such, it may be a little misguided. If you feel this is the case, choose your time wisely and ask for clarification. Often this leads to a productive conversation where you can discuss the criticism, put some context around it and come to a resolution.
- Act on it. If the criticism is valid act on it. Change your efforts or your behaviours and act on the criticism. Demonstrate that you are a good listener and that you value proper advice and act on it. Nothing strengthens your career path more than demonstrating that you are willing to take counsel and improve where you can.
- Don’t gossip about the criticism with your co-workers. If there is ever an example of a lack of resilience and maturity it is when you give some critical feedback and three minutes later you see the receiver taking out three colleagues for a coffee. Invariably, they are recalibrating the truth and positioning themselves as a victim. I can count on one hand how many times I have heard of people taking out colleagues to share that they had stuffed up and it was their fault! It just does not happen and most managers can see through it.
- After you have addressed the criticism and acted on it, ask for feedback. This way you have clarity about your actions and know if you are on the right track. It also demonstrates that you have listened and that you care.
Criticism is part of your work life and it is very important that we know how to deal with it. We must be able to understand where it comes from and why it has been delivered. We must also be able to evaluate whether it is fair and genuine and ensure that we respond to it professionally. Finally, we must act on it; demonstrate that we have listened and change our behaviours and actions to achieve a better result. Remember that all people have received plenty of criticism in our work lives; it is how we have responded to it that often determines how far we go in our careers.
Brad McMahon – Managing Director