Skills 360 – Dealing with Criticism (Part 1)

Free Resources: Lesson Module | Quiz & Vocab | PDF Transcript | Mobile Quizzes


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at ways to deal with criticism.

Criticism is something we all have to face. During a performance review, we have to listen as our boss criticizes our work. In meetings, people criticize our ideas. And every day we might hear people criticize us in the staff room and over the phone. We might also hear praise in these situations, but more often than not it’s the sting of criticism that lingers. And let’s face it: hearing people criticize our work, or criticize us, is never really easy.

So, how can we face criticism with the right attitude and approach? Well, start by thinking about the situation and the source. The situation might be formal, like your performance review or another evaluation process. Or it might be informal, like in the staff room.

In formal situations, it’s often a supervisor or superior who is criticizing; in informal situations, well, it could be anyone. It’s important to think of the situation and the source, because that might help determine whether the criticism is constructive or destructive.

Although some people use the word “criticism” to refer to unfair negative comments, a lot of criticism is actually constructive. I mean, it’s intended to help us do something better, to improve, to change in positive ways. Of course, there’s always destructive criticism, which has different motivations. Destructive criticism is sometimes personal, intended to hurt people rather than help people. You need to be able to handle both.

Now, we’ve talked about formal and informal situations and constructive and destructive criticism. You can probably see the difference here: constructive criticism in formal situations is just a part of working life! More than that, it’s necessary. And your job probably requires you to deliver this type of criticism too. So you should look at this criticism as an opportunity – as hard as that might be to do.

Okay, but what about destructive criticism, especially in informal situations? I mean, what do you do when Dave your snarky colleague says “Geez, you really messed up that presentation, didn’t you?” Well, your attitude and approach shouldn’t actually be too different, even though you want to tell Dave exactly what you think of him.

You see, the best thing to do first, no matter what the situation, is to ask a question. If your boss says you need to take more initiative, you can ask “can you give me an example of a situation where I should have taken more initiative?” And if Dave tells you you’re terrible with PowerPoint, you can ask, “what do you think I need to do better, Dave?” By asking questions, you show that you take constructive criticism seriously, and you can challenge destructive criticism. Either way, you are maintaining a professional attitude.

The alternative to maintaining a professional attitude is getting defensive, angry, or resentful. In other words, responding emotionally. Nothing good will come of that type of reaction, regardless of the situation. In fact, studies have shown a connection between emotional responses to criticism and a lack of confidence or self-esteem. It’s true! If you get defensive, you show people that you’re fragile, and that’s not one of the qualities that leads to success.

Maintaining a professional attitude also means not shooting back with your own criticism against the other person. So that means we shouldn’t say “Oh yeah Dave? Well your writing skills leave a lot to be desired.” That kind of response is a one-way ticket to a nasty argument.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be tempted to respond critically in a formal situation, when you’re listening to your boss review your performance. Still, in these formal situations, criticism can still be tough, and some people are not very skilled at giving criticism gently. We’ve all had bosses who sound harsh, or rude, without even knowing it. But we still need to separate the how from the what. That is, it’s not about tone of voice or word choice. It’s about the work, the performance, and the outcomes.

That’s the secret right there: think about outcomes. Don’t take things too personally. Instead, leave your ego out of it and consider your work objectively. Think about what you do and how you might do it better. If you can focus on improvement, and maintain a professional attitude, you’ll shine in the face of criticism, no matter what the situation.

So long. And see you again soon.