2 Steps to Handle Criticism without Losing Your Cool

At some point in your career, you will probably be faced with negative feedback from a boss, customer, co-worker, or other person you encounter along your career path – even (gasp!) when you thought you handled things perfectly!  So what do you do?

How do you handle criticism without losing your cool?

First, adopt the right attitude. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln; you can’t please everyone!  In fact, the bigger your commitment to do great things, the more likely you are to mess up once in a while.  It’s just plain risk vs. reward.  So instead of interpreting negative feedback as an absolute that you’ve failed, take it as a sign that you’ve pushed the boundaries.  Moreover, instead of being derailed by negative feedback, recognize it’s often your fastest route to improvement. In that way, you can treat constructive feedback as your gateway to excellence.

Second, have a script to follow. Emotionally, it can be a challenge to receive negative feedback graciously – especially if you worked really hard and are still feeling drained from the effort.  The best way to respond is to rely on a script like this one:

  1. Don’t argue or defend.  Simply say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”  You don’t even have to admit that you were wrong because, let’s face it, sometimes that’s purely a matter of opinion.
  2. Seek to understand.  Ask, “Help me understand exactly what you’re disappointed with,” and explore the who, what & how of the issue.
  3. Ask for advice.  Ask, “How would you like to have seen it handled?” This forces your boss, client, co-worker or whomever to shift from idle complaining to being constructive.
  4. Acknowledge.  It’s important they feel that they’ve been truly heard. State, “I appreciate your candid feedback on this point and it’s my goal that I deliver my best – whatever the challenge. Your input has identified an important way I can improve. Thank you.”

The most important part of this script is to resist the urge to argue – even if they say something to which you adamantly disagree, resist the urge to build your case and start a debate. True professionals put their ego aside, and have the courage to examine tough issues, and constantly seek to constantly improve.

Remember, no matter how skilled or experienced you are, it’s inevitable that you’re going to mess up sometimes.  So give yourself grace.

Failure is not an absolute. It’s a single development step on along your career journey.








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