Allison just finished getting chewed out by her boss. It was a grueling 30 minutes of hearing about how she didn’t take initiative and dropped the ball. She felt totally deflated and just wanted to take the rest of the day—if not week—off. She had a plenty of legitimate excuses, but because she was the manager, it didn’t matter. Determined, she was going to make the best of the situation even if she didn’t quite know how.
Sometimes it’s hard to be critiqued. I’m sure you believe you’re a hard worker, and so being told you’re doing a great job is what you expect, right? Whether it’s during your quarterly performance review, or just a regular one-on-one, you’ll eventually have to deal with criticism though. The difference between you being a mature and more senior contributor/manager is how you deal with that feedback. If you can absorb it and use it to improve, you’ll see that it’s an amazing tool to really move your career forward.
How to Use Criticism to Jump Start Your Career – 3 Simple Steps
I’m a strong believer in people improving the most when they’re critiqued, rather than when they’re always complimented. Saying good job is a great way to keep someone consistent with good behavior, but it’s less likely to transform them. Letting someone know their weaknesses, or mistakes, allows them to get to the next level in personal development. Of course, this criticism should be conveyed the right way, but oftentimes it isn’t, and it’s up to you, as the receiver, to still use it to your benefit.
Step 1: Don’t have a victim mentality
Most of us, when faced with criticism, react initially by finding excuses for our performance. We back into a defensive posture, playing the victim of circumstance. This victim mentality is dangerous, because it allows you to avoid dealing with the criticism properly. Instead of using it to help make you better, it can cause you to double-down on your weak performance.
Allison felt like it wasn’t entirely her fault. She was really swamped lately. Back-to-back meetings took up her entire day. There wasn’t any time to get work done! If only people would stop scheduling more meetings for her, she’d have had the time to organize her project and things wouldn’t have slipped through the cracks. It wasn’t fair that she was being judged so harshly.
Like Allison, you’ve probably felt the same way. Stop right there though. You’re not the victim. You’re in control, even if sometimes you might feel like you’re not. If you can break this mentality, then you’ve passed step one. Ask yourself: what’s the point of being the victim anyway? Sure, it’ll make you feel better, but at the end of the day, you still didn’t accomplish what was expected of you. Acknowledge this fact and then move on—don’t play the victim.
Step 2: Find how you contributed to the problem
So, now you know you’re not the victim. The next question to ask yourself is: how did my leadership contribute to the problem? You’re trying to find out how actions you’ve taken (or not taken) contributed to you being criticized. This next step is going to really solidify the idea that there were things in your control that could have prevented your performance issue.
Allison, being the pragmatic manager she was, shook her head in self-reflection. She allowed way too many meetings and never put a stop to that behavior. It seemed like these days, people would meet just to discuss how to have meetings. Rather than being decisive, she allowed what seemed like endless talk that wasted everyone’s time. Maybe, her problem with meetings was because of this leadership approach.
The focus here is on your leadership. What about your leadership is contributing to the criticism you’ve received? This doesn’t apply to just people in leadership either. If you’re an individual contributor, the leadership you need to think about is the way you lead yourself and work with the people around you. Maybe you allow people to take up your time unnecessarily. It might be that you get involved in too many initiatives. Whatever the case, start thinking about accountability for yourself and how your own behavior is contributing to the problem.
Step 3: Figure out what you could have done to avoid the problem
If you think through the steps, we’ve been funneling down to finally see what specific actions you can start doing to turn your weakness around and start improving. While step 2 was more broad, we want to go specific here and see if you can come up with ways to avoid having the same issue happen over and over. This is your chance to find tangible ways to start improving.
The next morning, Allison decided she was going to make a change. If she had blocked off more time in her calendar for her own work, others couldn’t take it over. Mornings were usually the time she was most productive, so dedicating the first hour of each day would have allowed her to be more on top of her new project. She also knew she had to adjust her leaderships style, which she’d start doing over the next few weeks.
I find it amazing that sometimes, the smallest action can totally change the outcome for you. If you’re bogged down and can’t get to something, rather than looking like you’re not taking it seriously, communicate with your boss that you need more time. If you’re having trouble figuring out a solution on your own, the simple action of asking for help could go a long way in making you look proactive. In almost all cases, there are little things you can pinpoint that will help you the next time you’re faced with a similar problem. These will be key parts of your growth, because they help eliminate the chance of the situation happening again.
The Moral: Don’t Play The Victim
If you take anything from this it should be that simply changing your mentality will go a long way to improving yourself. If you’re always using the excuse of it not being your fault, you’ll never get better. You’ll hear great leaders use the statement “the buck stops here.” That’s essentially what we’re talking about. Hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, even if you have valid excuses.
I’ll tell you from my own personal experience that following these steps has really transformed my mentality. I actually—as strange as this sounds—look forward to hearing criticism. It’s my way of growing and I really need it in order to find areas where I can improve. Sure, I need to hear some encouraging words too, but I love knowing where I’m weak because then I know what to focus on.
There are a lot of tips out there to help you in your career growth, but I personally believe that this one is fundamental. Even if you’re doing great today, if you don’t get this right, you’ll eventually stagnate and fall behind. That’s why you’ll see veterans of organizations suddenly fall from grace. They forget that even they make mistakes that need attention. Don’t let that be you and don’t let your reaction to criticism slow down your career growth.
Credit: Feature image by Freepik