“You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”…Anon
If you have ever been at the receiving end of criticism, either from a co-worker or manager, it is likely you have found yourself struggling to respond positively…or worse, have defaulted to apologizing when you have done nothing wrong. Even if the criticism is warranted or offered inappropriately, you cannot control the other person’s intention, words or delivery. What you can do is respond in a positive fashion while maintaining respect…for yourself and the bearer of disparaging comments. Whether the feedback pertains to your work, your relationship or a specific situation that transpired between both parties, your goal is to rise above the negativity and respond, rather than react.
Reflect don’t refute
Taking a “combative” approach in the face of unwelcome feedback is often your first mistake. Telling someone that you “don’t appreciate being spoken to in this manner” or “how dare you tell me that I’m not doing a good job” etc., will almost certainly escalate tension. Instead, choose to enter into a dialogue by asking questions. For example, “tell me more about your thoughts regarding my work” is a request for more information that serves to de-personalize the situation and compels the other person to explain his or her position. Although the other party may continue judging you, your question prepares you to reply to the additional “evidence”, manage your emotions and remain objective.
Defend without offending
There are times when criticism is justified. Unfortunately, both the sender and the recipient may not understand the difference between critiquing and criticizing. Consequently, the sender voices disapproval of your actions, performance, etc. in the second person. I.e. “you should, you never, your always, you need to…” As the recipient, your task involves taking care of your side of the street only, rather than attempting to regulate or “fix” the other person, regardless of whether his or her assessment of you is right or wrong. You can choose to let someone know how you feel about criticism without attempting to “teach him or her a lesson” by communicating in the first person: “I prefer, I understand, I’d like to…” etc. Rather than matching “fire with fire”, consider reframing your response without entering into a battle of words.
Remain true to your values
More often than not, being on the receiving end of criticism results in one’s ego being temporarily bruised. Rather than becoming more frustrated or resentful, it is far easier to adopt a values-based response. For example, if you value open communication as well as building harmonious workplace relationships, choose to live these values in all your interactions. When a co-worker or manager unduly criticizes your work or performance, there IS a way of letting them know that you are hurt, angry, upset, or concerned by focusing on the importance of your connection to one another. You can choose to express your feelings this way: “I’m concerned about the impact of criticism on our working relationship. It is important for me to understand your position and also to express my feelings regarding your feedback.” By articulating your thoughts in this manner, you stay true to yourself and reinforce your commitment to upholding your values in any situation, personal or professional.
About the author
Michelle Ray CSP is a leadership expert, author, business conference speaker and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute. For more than 20 years, Michelle has helped her clients take charge of themselves, shift perspectives and discover their greatest potential. She is a regular contributor for the Globe and Mail Leadership Lab column.
“Thumbs Up and Down” by Digitalart