Every collegiette who’s ever had a job or internship knows the feeling—you make it through the first few weeks and you’re absolutely killing it. Your boss comments on what a great job you’re doing, you love your coworkers and your first job or internship is everything you thought it would be—so the first time you’re criticized on the job can totally feel like it’s coming out of left field.
Criticism, especially when it’s coming from your boss or a coworker you respect, can feel, in the words of Cher Horowitz, “Way harsh, Tai!” and it’s not uncommon to have some hurt feelings. So how should you deal with this situation? Read on.
Don’t take it personally
The first step in dealing with professional criticism is taking a step back and separating the professional from the personal. Cheryl Rogers, founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, says that especially if you’re new to the workplace, it’s important to remember that professional criticism isn’t necessarily personal criticism.
“The truth is, not every supervisor or colleague will always act with tact,” Rogers says. “There may be times when they think they're helping you and you feel wounded. Try not to take things personally! Be humble. You're new to the field and you probably will make mistakes.”
It can be easy to view your boss’s criticism as a personal attack, instead of feedback meant to help you improve professionally. Heading into the workplace with the mindset that feedback is about your work, and not you as a person, will help keep bad feelings at bay.
View it as an opportunity to grow
What may feel like criticism at first could actually be your boss trying to give you feedback on how to improve. Rania Anderson, founder of The Way Women Work, says that using criticism to understand how you can improve is the best way to turn any hurt feelings into something constructive.
“Consider the source,” Anderson says. “If you respect the person giving [the advice], reflect carefully on what they've said. Don't ever discount criticism off hand. Instead, consider if there is any part of the feedback that is valid. Figure out how you can improve in the future.”
While you may not exactly feel like reliving the embarrassment that this criticism made you feel, it’s a great idea to take note of any feedback or criticism your boss offers you. You can view it as a learning experience to improve in the future—and reduce the amount of criticism you’ll have to hear later!
Ask for details
It can be tough to find value in criticism that is vague and unspecific. If you’re unsure exactly what you should do better next time, don’t be afraid to ask! Anderson says that asking for specifics is the best way to ensure you use criticism as a way to grow professionally.
“If they have not provided specifics, ask the criticizer to be detailed and what they recommend you do next time,” Anderson says.
It doesn’t hurt to ask your boss for further details about what went wrong, or what you could do to improve next time. Questions like, “What would you suggest I do differently in the future?” will not only help you to clarify her criticism, but it shows you respect her opinion and are willing to grow and improve.
Don’t dwell on it
That feeling where you play an embarrassing moment over and over again in your head days and weeks after it happened? We hate to break it to you, but it’s easy to fall into the same trap when it comes to being criticized in the workplace. Rita Kreig, the SAT/ACT marketing manager at Magoosh, says it’s important to learn from criticism and then move on.
“As a woman (and a human), you are raised to avoid making mistakes at all costs and are often your own worst critic,” Kreig says. “When you're already tough on yourself, it's easy to take all criticism personally. I've laid awake many a night thinking about the one negative thing someone said to me five days ago, and that's not productive.”
In other words, don’t dwell on it. After you’ve used the criticism to improve, don’t let it become something you constantly play over and over again in your head—it’s not helping you. If you need to, keep a notebook where you write critiques offered by your boss. That way, you have a way to remember important critiques, without being forced to constantly think about them outside of work.
While criticism is a way to understand how you can get even better at your job or internship in the future, there’s a fine line between being mindful and focusing too much on the opinions of others.
Know when it’s time to move on
There are some cases where criticism simply isn’t constructive, and it’s important to be able to recognize them. Rogers says that when criticism becomes a personal insult or attack, it’s time to think about moving on.
“There are times when you may have to deal with a difficult, or even abusive, supervisor,” Rogers says. “If you find his or her efforts to ‘help’ you leave you feeling insulted and abused on a regular basis, despite your best efforts to improve and not take everything personally, it may be time to move on. Don't allow yourself to be scarred because someone else has issues.”
If you think this might be your situation, it’s important to ask yourself if you’re actually getting anything out of frequent or harsh criticism. If the answer is no, it might be a good idea to start thinking about heading elsewhere. A respectful boss will offer constructive, useful criticism, without turning it into an insult.
When you learn how to handle it the right way, it’s much easier to turn criticism into a way to keep improving and growing—so don’t let it get you down!