Skills 360 – Dealing with Criticism (Part 2)

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

Unless you’re perfect, you have room to improve. That doesn’t sound like a difficult idea to accept, but what is difficult is when other people point it out to us. They might tell us that we’ve done something wrong, or done something poorly, or shouldn’t have done something at all. Some people might tell us in a polite and professional manner, just as a wise and diplomatic boss might. But others might just sound harsh or rude. So, what should we do in the face of criticism?

Well, today I want to focus on validity. That is, on whether the criticism is valid, justified, or reasonable. If it is, then we should treat it as helpful and constructive. And if it’s not, then we might need a different approach.

All right, but first how do we know if criticism is valid or not? How do we know it is correct and reasonable? Well, sometimes you know it’s valid if you’ve heard it before. So, the first time you hear that you don’t sound polite enough on the phone, you might just think it’s one person’s opinion. But if you hear it numerous times, then you’d better watch your language.

Also, valid criticism is often tied to specifics. That is, the person says exactly what is wrong, not just generally that something is wrong. So, “you work too slowly” is questionable. But “you need to pick up the pace because you’ve delivered the past three reports late” is specific.

Of course, as I mentioned in the last lesson, you can ask questions to encourage the person criticizing you to be more specific. And that will help you figure out if the criticism is valid.

But sometimes criticism isn’t valid. Sometimes it’s unfair. Sometimes it’s a grumpy colleague who thinks he will look better if you look bad. That kind of criticism is sometimes delivered emotionally, rather than calmly and reasonably. Sometimes invalid criticism lacks specifics. And sometimes it just comes naturally from people who don’t play well with others.

Again, asking questions can help you figure it out. If the person can’t give you specifics, then maybe the criticism isn’t so valid after all. And if you’re really not sure, you can always try asking for a second opinion. So when Mike tells you that you’re a terrible negotiator, go ask Larry whether it’s true or not.

So why think about whether criticism is valid? Well, first of all because valid criticism is an opportunity to improve. We all need good feedback to learn how we can change or adapt what we do in order to get better. Don’t be afraid of that feedback. Embrace it. It will help you grow.

In other words, you need to learn to say “you’re right,” even when it hurts. In fact, sometimes we get most upset when someone criticizes us for something that we know is perfectly true and that we already feel bad about! But if the criticism is valid, then take it. And if that means you need to swallow your pride, then swallow it.

In some cases, criticism isn’t completely valid, but only partly. Surely you know someone who adds “never” or “always” to every piece of criticism? As in, “you never pick up your stuff in the staff room” or “you always change my settings when you use my computer.” Well, you should still acknowledge the valid part, even if it’s not completely true or it’s exaggerated. So you might say, “well, it’s true that I changed some settings last week, and for that I’m sorry.”

But what about that criticism that is not valid? What about the truly unfair comments that we have to put up with? You’ve got a few options. First, you can ignore it. And if the source is someone who everyone knows is cantankerous, it probably won’t matter. You can also challenge the criticism. Once again, this can mean asking questions. Invalid criticism will fall apart at the seams under scrutiny.

Thirdly, if the criticism isn’t fair because of a misunderstanding, then clear it up professionally, without making excuses or scapegoating. So if it wasn’t you who changed the computer settings, then don’t say “no way man, it was Rick!” Instead, try “I’m sorry but I think you’re mistaken. I haven’t used your computer. It may have been someone else.”

And finally, you can deal with the personal issue behind the criticism. I mean, if someone is criticizing you unfairly because they don’t like you, or they’re competing with you, then it may not be enough to deal with each point of criticism. You need to solve the underlying problem.

So remember, your approach to valid and invalid criticism may be different, but in any case you need to start out with an open mind. If you’re confident in yourself and your efforts, then you shouldn’t feel attacked when you’re criticized. Keep your chin up and learn from what others have to say. After all, you’re not perfect, right?

That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.