Career Network for student Scientists and Postdocs at Yale

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How to Handle Criticism at Work

Guest blogger, Supriya Kulkarni, a member of CNSPY’s Communications Team, shares more of her advice this week about how to accept and handle criticism in a professional manner. She provides some great advice that can be used everyday! Here’s Supriya…

 

“I am my biggest/worst critic!” We have all either said or thought of ourselves as our strictest critics. Yet, why is it so difficult to swallow criticism from others? We have all had it from our bosses, co-workers, peer reviewers, funding agencies, or job applications. It is difficult NOT to get disappointed at criticism. Negative reviews and critiques can have a significant effect on our professional attitude, and they can impinge on our personal lives as well.

You cannot avoid criticism. However, as amateur and beginner professionals in a research environment, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers need to understand how to face, handle, and convert criticism into a learning experience.

Here are a few tips to help you constructively handle ANY criticism:

 

1. Take the time to really listen and understand “what” the criticism is about-

It is very natural to become emotional when we hear or read a negative comment about our work or our behavior. However, the more emotional we are, the more convoluted our thinking becomes and our reactions become unprofessional, to say the least. Remember, the critique is about your approach to a specific problem or a response to a specific issue and not ALL of that makes you, YOU. Also, it is a professional critique, NOT a PERSONAL one. Hence, we should not take it personally. Instead, we should listen carefully to the comment and be objective about the point of the criticism.

 

2. Stay Calm-

Sometimes it’s not the criticism in itself, but the manner in which it is said/written/delivered that appears offensive. Getting riled up and emotional when you hear negative comments/criticism is a part of being human. But remember, in a professional setting, such emotional outbursts (even though silent) reflects negatively on you. Don’t be brusque and offensive, KEEP CALM and STAY STRONG.

 

3. Ask questions-

Clarify what seems ambiguous to you; it is VERY easy to misinterpret negative comments. By asking for clarity and being objective, you also project a positive attitude and an eagerness to solve the issue at hand rather than just being emotional. Remember, as a young professional, you have a lot to learn! 🙂

 

4. Determine the accuracy-

The way that the criticism was presented might have been striking or unprofessional. However, try to determine if the criticism (although presented to you in the wrong manner) has value in it. Ensure that the source of the criticism has all the information and is not unaware of important facts related to the issue at hand. If needed, speak with your mentors, friends, and/or family members to assess whether the criticism is valid and get their input on how you can resolve the issue.

 

5. Do not be hasty in your response-

Again, when criticized, it is a natural and protective reaction to respond and address the comment ASAP, but do NOT rush to explain, clarify, and/or demonstrate that the criticism was incorrect. Instead, digest the comment thoroughly, understand it completely, calm your emotions, and then address the comment. Hasty decisions are many a times incomplete decisions.

 

6. Address the criticism-

Once you have calmly thought about, understood, and systematically devised a solution to improve based on the critique, ACT on it. When you bring your solution into action, the source/person from whom the negative comment originated will witness the changes you have made and your improved professional approach will be acknowledged tremendously!

 

7. Do not be afraid to challenge the criticism-

If you go through the process of understanding, evaluating, and re-evaluating the criticism and realize that the person did not have all the information needed, or you genuinely believe that your approach/behavior was correct, or you conclude that the criticism was inaccurate, state your view of the situation assertively, but be respectful and professional while stating it.

 

Try to apply these tips the next time you hear a negative comment on your professional approach!

** Let us know if these tips were useful in helping you turn a criticism into a stepping stone to success in the professional world, and let us know if you have any additional tips that will help in these situations. Comment below! **

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great post, Supriya. Your suggestions really resonated with me. Sometimes it is really important to understand who is saying the criticism. If they are your mentors or friends, they might honestly want you to improve and only want to help. Something to keep in mind while you try remain calm and as you evaluate the criticism itself as you suggested.

    • Thank you Tenaya!

      Exactly, it’s all about taking things in your stride. It is upto us to filter out the points that will help us improve in any given situation! 🙂

      I am glad you found the topic relatable!
      Supriya

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