How to gracefully react to constructive criticism at work | Ladders

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How to accept constructive criticism without freaking out

Let’s admit it: even if we know constructive criticism is good for us, it can be a challenge to accept it. Hearing that we’re doing something wrong, and then fixing it, is a next-level personality challenge. What we do know, however, is that it’s worth it to listen, because very often other people see our behavior better than we do. Accepting constructive criticism is also the key to getting promoted at work, because feedback is a crucial part of rising within a company.

Here’s how to accept constructive criticism gracefully, and improve your life in the process.

Have an open mind

Our egos are not our friends. Ego is the force that pushes other people away to protect ourselves, and it throws a tantrum any time someone suggests we’re flawed. The first key to accepting constructive criticism is to dock your ego.

It’ll be difficult to accept what your manager is telling you if you don’t hear him or her out. Listen, take it in, and process what’s being said instead of getting defensive.

Your physical body will show signs of panic if you feel threatened, even by advice or criticism. To combat that, keep your breathing steady and try to stop fidgeting.

Constructive criticism could be what you need to move in the right direction— by isolating areas to work on, you can focus on bettering your performance next time around.

Resist the temptation to show your frustration

Getting snotty about criticism, or lashing out, is a death sentence for your career. You’ll be labeled as volatile and oversensitive, and even if you’re talented you’ll have to be twice as talented to make up for the label of having a bad attitude.

Nicole Lindsay writes about this in an article for The Muse.

“At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You will have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm,” Lindsay writes.

Don’t take it personally

It’s also important to remember this: criticism, constructive or not, is not really a judgment. It’s information. Appreciate it as information and, to fully understand it, separate yourself from your work.

Jacqueline Whitmore writes about how you shouldn’t “take it personally” in an Entrepreneur article.

“Constructive criticism is not an insult or a reflection on who you are as a person. It’s merely someone’s observations about his or her interactions with you in a business context. Whether the person is well-meaning or just being mean-spirited doesn’t really matter. Respond respectfully as though your critic’s intentions are good, and come from a place of gratitude for the information. After all, you’re smart and savvy enough to determine how valid the feedback is and what to do about it,” Whitmore writes.

Assume this posture

Don’t show that you’re closed off, even if you would rather be having any other conversation at work at the moment.

An Inc. article illustrates how you should position yourself.

“When offered constructive criticism, pay special attention to your body language. Assume a ‘neutral’ posture; keep your arms on the table, in your lap, or a combination of both. Maintain eye contact, and be aware of your shifting weight. Avoid crossing your arms, tightening your fists, pursing your lips, or rolling your eyes,” the article says.

Say these words

Here’s a template for the next time you get criticism.

Alison Green writes about being “open/nondefensive” in an article for U.S. News & World Report.

She writes this an example, “I’m glad you’re telling me this. I’ve been letting some deadlines on this project slide because I had thought that projects x and z were higher priorities and was more focused there. But am I looking at this wrong?”

But if you don’t agree with what’s being said, Green provides more advice.

She adds, “If you genuinely disagree with the criticism you’re hearing, and you’re sure it’s not just your ego getting in the way, it’s OK to say that. But it’s all in how you say it and what tone you use. For instance, you might say: ‘I hadn’t realized it was coming across that way, so I’m glad to know. From my perspective, it seems like _____.’ (Fill in the blank with whatever your perspective is.)”

You will survive hearing where you went wrong at work— just use constructive criticism to fuel your forward progress.