Constructive responses to less than constructive criticism
When someone criticizes you unfairly, your first move should be to restate the criticism in your own words.
When a co-worker criticizes your work or methods, often your first instinct is often to lash out and get defensive. Doing so, however, can quickly turn a conversation into an argument—which can take a lot of time and energy and is not terribly productive, even if you are right.
So, when someone criticizes you unfairly, your first move should be to restate the criticism in your own words. This helps ensure that you understood the point, and gives you an opportunity to depersonalize the comment. If someone says, “You’re putting us behind schedule with your obsessive checking of the figures,” you might restate the comment: “So, you believe my double-checking the data is slowing us down.”
Now that you’ve put the problem in your own (less antagonistic) terms, you can choose how to respond:
1. Promise future consideration. Explain your side of the story (briefly) and commit to keeping your colleague’s point in mind in the future: “I believe it is more important to get the job done right than to get it done fast. However, in the future I will pay closer attention to deadlines.” This allows you to state your case and acknowledge the criticism, but does not saddle you with blame for the delay.
2. Present options. Sometimes, when you lay out the potential outcomes of two courses of action it can change a critic’s mind. “We can wait to recheck the figures, or submit them now knowing they may be wrong. Which would you prefer?” Once again, you acknowledge the criticism, but now the responsibility for what happens next rests on the critic.
3. Agree in principle. Sometimes, people try to hold you to an unrealistic ideal and you need to call them on it. “Yes, in a perfect world we could check 100 pages of figures and still make deadline, but we are not working under perfect circumstances.” This leaves no doubt that you heard what the critic said, but also makes it clear that you are set on pursuing your course.
Keep in mind that the tone you use in each of these circumstances is just as important as what you say. Be calm and reasonable, but be firm—the goal is to avoid an argument.
Finally, remember that sometimes you are wrong. In those instances, restate the criticism, acknowledge your shortcoming, and pledge to correct the situation.
Agreeing with a critic’s point, or just acknowledging your colleague’s right to a differing opinion, can be a powerful response.
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