Criticism? With pleasure!

17.02.2020 | Author: Annett Heide | Photos: Jill Senft

An illustration of a woman sitting at a table, smiling and balancing a coin on her finger.
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Six strategies for handling criticism at work.

We can learn to take negative feedback with aplomb in the workplace: here are six tips from experts for maintaining composure and confidence.

1. Get some oxygen: Take a deep breath! This measure can be taken straight away, buying you precious time and preventing you from reacting without thinking. “If you know your immediate response will be less than helpful, come up with an excuse to address the issue at a later time,” says management consultant Gabriele Maier. “Something like: ‘Let me think about that. We can talk about it tomorrow.’” Body language is also important; an upright, balanced posture automatically gives you an aura of confidence. This, in turn, has a positive effect on your own psyche. “By sitting upright, relaxing my shoulders and keeping my head high, my brain unlocks additional resources.”

2. Love yourself: Role-playing lets you train your receptiveness to criticism and prepares you for the next round of feedback. But don’t expect your attitude to change overnight. The further your desired reaction deviates from the reaction you are likely to have, the longer the process may take. “It’s important not to get down on yourself,” says Maier. “Try not to have any self-pity. Instead, say: ‘I’m on the right track.’” Write down what the other person said and how you could respond differently. This is good practice for taking a closer look at and reflecting on the situation.

3. Boost your testosterone: Associate motivational sayings with an object – this could be some kind of good-luck charm that you take to meetings – and hold it near so it gives you strength. Or tape a random picture to your mirror as an everyday reminder to not take everything so personally, but instead to ask yourself what a hefty criticism might tell you about your critic. Amy Cuddy is a social psychology professor at Harvard Business School and the developer of power-posing, a technique in which a person stands in a position that makes them feel more powerful. She held a TED Talk in which she offered a solid tip: “Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this – in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors. [...] Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Try power-posing. It works. Share the science. It is used in the presentation of Wonder Woman. Get your testosterone up.”

An illustration of a woman sitting at a table, smiling and balancing a coin on her finger.

4. Become less dependent on praise and criticism: Personality psychologist Eva Asselmann says to take a reality check. What just happened? What did the other person actually say and how did I interpret it? And: How do the others who were present see it? How relevant was the criticism? How will I feel about it next month, next year, in five years? “It might become clear that the situation wasn’t all that significant to begin with,” the expert says. You can boost your confidence by looking at everything you’ve achieved in life so far: you’ve made friends, passed tests, found a flat, a job. “Success can also have its roots in negative events. My partner left me, for example. That was a difficult period, but I came out of it in one piece.”

5. Learn to be assertive: This is a long process that requires patience. How often do we say “yes” but what we really meant was “no”? Asselmann has a good exercise for this: “Place a few coins in your right pocket. Whenever you find yourself in this type of situation, move one of the coins to your left pocket. At the end of the day, go through coin by coin and think about how often a situation like this arose and why.” You can take inventory like this every day to better advocate for your own needs and wants – even at the till when somebody tries to cut in line. This will become easier with time, and you’ll be able to be more assertive in the workplace too.

6. Don’t assume that (only) you are to blame: Become more psychologically resilient. “Those who exhibit great resilience differentiate more strongly between themselves and the other person: ‘I’m not the reason my boss is in a bad mood; maybe he’s going through something at home,’” says Maier. Those who look at things this way, see the bigger picture: “You become more capable once you stop feeling like you’re always being walked over.” And how does one become more resilient? “By reflecting on situations with the benefit of hindsight. You can do this alone or with another person. I have to ask myself: ‘How did the situation make me feel? What happened physically? How do I feel about it now?’” These three questions will help you be more introspective.

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