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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dealing with Criticism

Every once in a while during your career you will face some kind of performance review also called job appraisal. Most people dread these meetings as they might seem like someone sits you down in an office and tells you all the things you are doing wrong, inadequately or failing to do at all. But it doesn't have to be like this. There are things which you can do to assist in making the process go well e.g. reacting maturely to criticism.

In the following lines you will find a few tips on how to respond to criticism – during an appraisal or in other situations in your life.

The right reaction to criticism

Poorly conducted appraisals will often focus almost exclusively on the things that have gone less than perfectly. However any appraisal is going to spend some time on difficulties – it goes with the territory so to speak – and you must be ready to deal with this. Three intentions should be uppermost in your mind in this respect, over and above a general desire to put the best complexion on everything. These are:

1) Achieving accuracy

Here your intention is to ensure that the right facts are considered. Beware of the appraiser using vague statements like “You’re never on time with anything”. This is unlikely to be true. But what are you late with and what are the implications? It is easier to discuss specifics and questions may well be the route to identify them. Never argue with anything but the true facts, checking what is really meant is the first step to responding to what is said in the right way.

2) Being seen to be objective

If every criticism is seen simply to put you into automatic defensive mode, then discussion will be unlikely to be constructive. Using an acknowledgement to position what follows is always useful. It:

- indicates you feel there is a point to discuss (if you do not, then we are back to achieving accuracy – see above)

- shows that you are not going to argue unconstructively

- makes it clear that you intend to respond in a serious and considered fashion

- gives you a moment to think (which may be very useful!) and sets up the subsequent discussion so that you can handle it better.

Just a few words may be all that is necessary here. Starting with a “yes” gives it power – Yes, there was a problem with that – and sounds right even if your intention is to go on to minimize the problem.

3) Dealing with the points raised

Now the job is to deal with the matter. Mechanistically the options are few and therefore manageable. You may need to explain why a difficulty occurred. Here there are four routes to handling things:

1. Remove the difficulty:if possible, you can explain that what seemed like a difficulty or error was not in fact that. A delay, say, might not have been in an original plan, but caused little problem.

2. Reduce the difficulty:maybe you have to acknowledge that there was some difficulty, but explain that it was of little significance

3. Turn the difficulty into a plus:sometimes it is possible to argue that what might initially seem like a problem is in fact not. A delay might not have been in an original plan, but included for a positive reason – there might only have been a real problem without the delay.

4. Agree the difficulty:after all, there is no point in trying to argue that black is white. Most ordinary mortals have some problems during a whole year of activity. Your job is not to persuade the appraiser that there were no problems, but to persuade the appraiser that, on balance, your year was a good one.

TIP: Remember that the prime purpose of appraisal is to set the scene for successful work in the coming year, not argue about what cannot be changed. None of us can turn the clock back, but all of us can learn from experience. So the key thing to include when the discussion touches on difficulties, is the lessons that have been learned for the future.

The list of implications and actions here is considerable. Failure may have come about because of unforeseen circumstances (and new procedures are necessary in case such circumstances occur again). You may be starting to have to use skills not previously necessary in the job (and training may be needed to quickly add them to your portfolio). There may be lessons to learn, but ultimately the emphasis needs to be on what happens next, and this allows a return to the most constructive elements of the dialogue.

TIP: If there is one area that needs particular preparation it is in your response to criticism. You will surely know what is likely to be raised: be ready for such topics and have a constructive response ready.

Remember that the constructive approach commended as a response to criticism is something that can be usefully deployed in many ways, formally and informally.

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