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How to Handle Workplace Criticism with Grit and Grace

How to Handle Workplace Criticism with Grit and Grace

“Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought.”
-Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of US Congress

Constructive criticism is one of those things we love to hate. We know that in order to grow and improve we must continually use the lens of those we trust and respect to sharpen us every day. However, when we receive it, that criticism can cut deep into our core and leave us shaken and unsure.

But it’s not the criticism that counts, is it? It’s what we do with it. It’s not supposed to just hurt our feelings and then die. The importance is in the work we do with it. Because true constructive criticism is meant to be given in love. Yes, you read that right, love. It’s intended to sharpen and refine you. In the business world, it’s designed to make you better. It’s meant to help you grow. And the more gracefully you can accept it and use it, the better off you will be in the long-run.

That’s so hard to do, though, isn’t it? As women, we tend to lead with our emotions, whether in the workplace or at home. And it hurts when someone criticizes us, no matter how lovingly or respectfully they do so.

So, what should we do?

We know we’re supposed to take it gracefully, but how?

It’s never easy to know exactly what to do when you feel attacked and criticized. So, it’s best to be prepared ahead of time with a game plan; to know how you want to react when criticism comes your way…because it will, that is the one sure thing.

It may not be perfect, but if you follow just a few of these five steps when confronted with constructive criticism in the workplace, you’ll be well on your way to handling it with grit and grace.

Here are 5 ways to use criticism to your advantage:

1. Hit pause.

Oh my gosh, if I could get this tattooed on my forehead, it would be so helpful. It’s so hard to hit pause when we feel under attack. The body has a natural evolutionary response to perceived criticism, almost akin to fight or flight. We all know the feeling: tears start to well up in our eyes, our heart starts to beat faster, our pulse feels like it’s about to pop right out of our neck, sweat trickles and palms get sweaty. This, my friends, is your critical moment to…do nothing. I know it seems like a great idea to type out the most amazingly cutting email response and hit send. But don’t. I know it may feel great in the moment to come back with a playground-esque “I know you are but what am I?” type response in that meeting. Don’t. Hit pause. If you receive the criticism over email, just sit on it for a bit, at least until you’ve calmed down and processed. If it was in person or over the phone, pause. Thank the criticizer, though this may seem impossible to do. Tell them you will take some time to think on it, and you appreciate them coming to you. And walk away. I promise this can save you embarrassing clean up later.

Constructive criticism in the workplace: the more gracefully you can accept it and use it, the better off you will be in the long-run.

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2. Breathe.

This ties in closely to number one, but it’s so important. Especially if the criticism was given constructively with the true intent of making you better, you have got to take the emotions out of it. If you can, go for a walk or hide in the bathroom. Just breathe. Do whatever you can to calm yourself down and take the emotional response down to zero. You can’t think clearly when you’re upset, so even if the criticism was valid and loving, you wouldn’t be able to see it. Give yourself as much time as you need, but also remember that it’s important to handle yourself professionally during this critical pause period. So don’t gossip! We’ll discuss seeking counsel shortly, as that’s always a good idea. Gossip, however, is not. It does immense harm to circle the wagons and share your story with the girls to seek sympathy. Nothing good can come of it. So take all the time that you need, but choose wisely with whom you are talking.

3. Consider the source.

Not all constructive criticism is created equal, largely because not all critics are. When you’re evaluating what to do with the criticism that was leveled at you, make sure you consider from whom it’s coming. If it was your boss, you’re most likely going to follow the advice very carefully. Largely because you are working for her or him, and want to do well in her or his eyes. If you disagree completely with your boss’s take, you have to evaluate your professional relationship to know if there is room for dissension and open conversation to come to a compromise. Some great working relationships allow that; some do not. If the criticism comes from a well-meaning colleague, you have more leeway. Yes, after taking a breath and stepping away, if you realize it’s valid, then, by all means, incorporate it. If you disagree, if it seems to come from a place of malice or disrespect, or you just don’t see it as legitimate, it’s OK to walk away gracefully and not take it to heart. Yes, acknowledge and thank the giver, that’s always key to healthy relationships, but by all means, move along on your own path.

4. Seek counsel.

I’m going to repeat myself here—this does not mean gossip! This involves consulting someone you trust. Seek out a mentor or a superior whom you trust and have a strong relationship with, and ask them for their honest opinion. Ask them to help you navigate a response if one is required, and ask them for tips on how to incorporate this new criticism into your daily life. Oftentimes simply repeating what you have heard and talking it through will help give you a better perspective. Getting trusted advice on how to handle criticism is invaluable. (To read more about finding a mentor, click, here).

5. Take it as you will.

Unless it was given as an explicit directive from your superiors, there is no hard and fast rule that you have to take the constructive criticism and use it. If you are doing well in your job and succeeding, it is not a workplace blunder to simply respond with grace and continue on as you were. However, when given with respect and good intentions, it’s important to hold the criticism up to the light and honestly examine the areas where you can do better. Taking some of it, even one tiny part, and holding it as truth to help you better yourself is always a good thing. To handle criticism with grit and respond with grace is essential to your personal growth and imperative to a long and successful career. It may take practice to get there, but with each tiny step forward you are working your way towards the very best version of yourself.

You’ll love this episode of our podcast To the Working Woman: A How-To Guide for the Workplace – 023


You’ll also like The 6 Qualities That Make a Female Leader StrongDear Parents of Millennials: It’s Time to Stop It, How to Build the Workplace Reputation of Your Dreams5 Tips on Dealing With Sexual Harassment in the WorkplaceA Woman’s Grit Is Her Biggest Asset for Success, and 2 Simple Secrets to Long-Term Success.
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Meaghan is the most extroverted introvert you’ll ever meet. An East Coast transplant living in Texas, she spends most of her time wrangling 3 kids, her husband, and a giant dog. When she finally gets a free minute you can either find her tucked in on the couch with a good book or in the kitchen, attempting to create magical meals (and sometimes succeeding).

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