I’m a crier. However, when it comes to work I have a pretty strict no-tear-dropping policy…at least not until I have left the building. And yes, this does often mean that I am the girl you see on the PATH train headed to Hoboken during the 6:30 rush, who has pent-up snot and water leaking from her face. After all, I’ve had a shitty day.
Dealing with inter-office drama and/or “constructive” criticism is hard for most people I know. I, personally, have struggled a lot with discerning criticism of my work from criticism of my existence, and I think this is a common experience. Oh, and guess what – this problem is also gendered! No surprise there, right? Tech entrepreneur Kieran Snyder conducted a study for Fortune and found a major difference between workplace performance reviews given to men and women. Across 248 reviews from 28 companies, managers, whether male or female, gave female employees more negative feedback than they gave male employees.
We can’t change our bosses, we can’t change our gender, but we can change our response. So, my main question right now is: How do we combat this feeling of worthlessness or anger while moving toward the actual ‘constructive’ part?
Step 1 – Stop Your First Reaction
Now this is a step I notoriously forget! At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything — stop. Seriously, do not react for at least ten seconds. The body has this sneaky way of letting everyone know what we are thinking before the words even come out of our mouths. And while ten seconds seems like an insignificant amount of time, it’s just enough for your brain to process the situation. This will give you time to suspend that stank-face or react with a not-so-nice quip in the direction of someone who may have control over your career.
Step 2 – Remind Yourself It’s About Them, Not You
Having thick skin and leaving all comments unabsorbed is not the only way to learn to accept criticism. Ultimately, we can’t ignore all of the commentary — some of it is valuable feedback that we can benefit from. Ideally, we still want the assessment but not the hurt. Author Tara Mohr explains that even if a comment is personal or unhelpful on the surface, it’s still useful information about the personality of the speaker. So try “interpreting feedback as providing information about the preferences and point of view of the person giving the feedback.” If your advisor dismisses your idea or objective take that as a sign of what he or she is really looking for. This is not a reflection of the value of you or your concept.
Step 3 – Request Time to Follow Up
Issues have been raised, comments have been made, and hopefully you have calmed down. The process, however, is not done. Constructive criticism is often the only way we learn about our weaknesses — without it we can’t improve; and we want to ensure that we have improved! Following up with a new round of revisions is a way of closing the conversation and proving your ability to evolve and grow.
Easier said than done, but hey, we (or I) can try! When we get defensive or upset, instead of accepting and gracious, we run the risk of missing out on important insight. Remember, feedback is not any easier to give than to receive, but it will help us advance, mature, and grow.