Bad performance review? Here are 3 steps to handling criticism at work — without being a pushover.


Succeeding at work is such a priority that many people are afraid to take vacations. But instead of forfeiting hard-earned time off, you might do better to learn to deal with a boss who makes a point of calling out your shortcomings. That's because career success isn't about how many hours you log: If you want to get ahead, you need to impress your supervisor. (Or find a new job.) Building a reputation for great work makes it easier to ask for time off — and more.

No one enjoys being criticized. And if you've pretty much succeeded in everything you've set your mind to in life, you may never have developed the mental muscle to deal with negative feedback. But it's a crucial career skill to have. Not only will it help you get better at your job, but it will diffuse silent resentment over criticism that can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors like procrastination, brooding and anger, which don't do you any good.

Communication is the foundation of any good relationship, and you build good will when you show that you're open to different ways of doing things. Caring enough to listen to criticism and make changes is perhaps the most crucial way to show you're invested in a job and committed to excelling.

So don't be afraid of a bad review. Instead, use the information to enhance skills, exceed expectations and earn a promotion or at least a better performance review next time. Here's how to turn negative feedback into positive change in three simple steps.

1. Hit pause on your anger or sadness

Finding out what you're doing wrong is uncomfortable. "Some people experience feedback as pure criticism and don't want to hear it. Others see it as spiritually crushing: a confirmation of their worthlessness. Still others only want to hear praise, but nothing that might suggest imperfection," behavioral studies expert Phil Rich wrote in his article "Giving and Receiving Feedback."

When you're criticized, it's tempting to go into panic mode. Instead, breathe in and out deeply to "lower your stress levels and allow yourself to take in what’s being said," as Karen Elizaga, executive coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot suggested to Glamour. "If you're on the defensive, it enables your body's fight-or-flight response,” business strategist Kathleen Caldwell said to Fast Company. "Avoid thinking about how you’re going to defend yourself and open your mind to truly listen to what your boss or co-worker has to say."

To help calm your anxiety at the first whiff of criticism, think of it as a chance to grow, as opposed to a focus on a character flaw. "Even a silly-sounding criticism can contain a world of opportunity," as an article on South University's website explained. "It's a chance to demonstrate a sense of professionalism by remaining cool in the face of criticism and show off your listening skills."

To listen more actively, reflect back what was said to you, pay attention to any assumptions you're making — and ask open-ended questions so you can learn as much as you can. This might be as simple as saying, "Thank you for letting me know this has been a problem. Could you please give me an example so I can work on it in the future?"

2. Put yourself in the shoes of your boss

Make no mistake: Your boss will judge you based on how you respond to feedback. So it's essential to get it right. "Criticism, or feedback, is really important because we have professional and personal blind spots, and we can’t really see ourselves as others see us," Caldwell told Fast Company. "In order to grow, we've got to be able to see ourselves as other people see us, and be able to take their feedback and do something with it."

Again, that's why instead of getting defensive, your first step should be to say thanks, per The Muse. "Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts." Then, ask for specific examples to learn how to address the problem and do better: "I’d love to discuss ways I can do better going forward," is another possible response.

If the feedback is related to something major, like an ongoing work performance issue, consider asking for a follow-up meeting to discuss any solutions you come up with or even to informally bounce ideas for improving off your critic, as Elizaga said to Glamour. "Your boss will see how you are actively contributing, and wanting to do well for yourself and for the organization," when you ask their opinion about proposed solutions.

And what if the boss's criticism is flat out wrong? Say your boss criticized you for an error on a report, but you know you got it right. In that case, you should calmly explain that your information was correct and provide documentation to back that up. This does not mean you should be smug or rude — or make your boss feel like you resent them. Keep a smile on your face and, as with all your work interactions, remain professional and friendly. If you are forgiving of their mistake, they will be more inclined to be forgiving of yours in the future.

3. Impress your critics

After you've had the tough talk, it's time to focus on changing. Your specific response will vary depending upon the criticism, but you need to solve the problem that led to the negative feedback. Create an action plan that will correct your mistakes and understand that your job may depend on it.

The change may be as simple as writing a reminder on a sticky note to always double-check your math before submitting a report. Or it may involve something specific like implementing a new procedure to improve work flow — or bringing in three new clients in the next six months. Maybe you just need to wake up earlier so you can get to work on time.

Be as specific as possible with your planned changes so you, and your boss, can measure your success. You also want to make sure you're recognized for what you're already doing well. "You may be able to stave off an overly negative review by keeping a detailed journal of your accomplishments," the Wall Street Journal suggested. This includes everything from keeping written records of your successes to filing emails commending you on your successes.

Lastly, don't be a pushover. If the criticism is legitimate, accept it and correct it. If not, communicate that in a respectful and professional manner. Because everyone makes errors sometimes — even the boss.

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