Make Criticism work for you: A five-step strategy for handling criticism from your boss

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“Oh my God he knows, I’ll get criticized and I hate to be criticized. It ruins the whole day”. Screwing up is bad enough, but having a boss who is going to nail you for every little flaw is hard to take. Your first thoughts are wishful thinking – “maybe he won’t catch it”. Then reality sets in – “No way. Old hawk eye never misses a thing. I will hear about it”.

Consider the following scenario. Yesterday you came in early to work on the monthly report in order to get it to your boss on time. Shortly before noon it was in the mail and a copy of it was on the boss’s desk. How proud and relieved you felt. Then this morning, for some unknown reason you pick up your copy of the report and three typos jump off the first page and slap you in the face. Where did those come from? Surely your secretary caught them and they are only on your copy but not on your boss’s copy. Racing to your secretary’s desk, you inquired, only to confirm your worst fears. You could feel the blood rushing to your head. Crazy thoughts racing through your mind. Maybe he hasn’t read it yet. No, he always reads his mail. Maybe he won’t catch it. Are you kidding? Maybe he won’t say anything. Wrong again. Maybe the boss is going to criticize you. Right!

Realizing that your boss is going to criticize you is a step in the right direction towards handling the forthcoming event. Handling it effectively consists of a series of five steps:


(1) Prepare yourself mentally to be criticized and think back of your boss’s critical behavior:

Understanding why your boss will be critical of you is an essential element in accepting it and making it an opportunity instead of an obstacle. Perhaps your boss is stressed out for personal or business reasons. Perhaps he is just critical by nature. If this is the case, then it is not you of whom he is critical, he is critical of everyone with whom he deals with. Or perhaps he does seem to be more critical of you than others. Maybe he does not trust you, or does not think you can do anything right, or does not like you, or feels that you respond best to criticism, and maybe you actually deserve it! His/her reasons do not need to be logical or correct from your frame of reference. They need to be stated and accepted as “his/her reasons”. Putting that mindset will help you to accept the criticism and learn to deal with it.


(2) Accept the criticism:

Even if it is wrong, it is still the boss’s view. You need to understand the reasons why you have trouble accepting criticism. Perhaps you have a few basic insecurities that criticism brings to light by rubbing salt into an open wound. Or perhaps you have a poor image of yourself and low self esteem. Maybe you have a great deal of pride and you think that you are frequently right. Recognize that the criticism is the boss’s reaction to his interpretation of what he thinks happened. Whether you think it is right or wrong, you need to accept what he says. You do not have to agree, just accept it till you have a say. Furthermore, if the boss sees things this way, others may do so too. There is always some truth in any criticism thrown your way. “Right or wrong” is not the issue.

You need to accept responsibility for what happened as well and start viewing criticism as an opportunity to show yourself and the world that you can face criticism and turn it to positive energy .After all, you have a choice. You can let criticism hurt you; make you feel bad; ruin your day, week, career, or life; or you can choose to turn it around and make it work for you. The choice is up to you.

And one word of warning on impulse, try and resist placing blame or being defensive, giving reasons or excuses for your behavior. Just simply accept it.


(3) Understand the criticism:

Now that you have accepted the criticism, you need actively to take positive steps to handle the criticism. It is time to determine how to react to the criticism. And to decide if the criticism is justified. If it is justified, apologize and reach agreement on how you should change.


(4) Reach agreement on how you will change:

You have a perfect opportunity to show off your communication skills. Consider it an ideal chance to demonstrate your ability to look beyond the mere required duties of your job and how you are capable of taking control of difficult situations.

You will need to restate the criticism, ask questions, summarize your understanding of the criticism, add your interpretation of what you think your boss is really saying, ask your boss for specific suggestions, add your suggestions, and summarize your agreement.


(5) Give positive reinforcement to your boss:

Negotiate with your boss regarding exactly how these suggestions will be implemented. Reach an agreement on how you will change. Finally, summarize what you have agreed. Give positive reinforcement to your boss by thanking him for being interested in you and for being willing to point out your shortcomings. Express your appreciation for his willingness to help you and for giving you the opportunity to change, grow and develop but do not over do it!

Well, easier said than done. Sometimes it is difficult not to take criticism personally and let us face it no one likes to be criticized, but it is a fact of life not only at work but with family and social relationships so learning to manage criticism is a good exercise and vice versa, remember how you feel when you have to give criticism to someone else, so do not assume it is an easy job for your boss or that he/she enjoys it – unless your tough luck throws your way a psychopathic boss!

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