The Big Questions

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Thriving Under Criticism

How to Not Crumble Under Criticism

Criticism can sting, badly. And, the wrong response to criticism could cost you dearly. But how can you best handle criticism?

Imagine you are receiving a performance evaluation at your workplace. You want to keep your job, so how should you react to this feedback? If it is positive, obviously this shouldn't be too problematic, assuming you can refrain from yelling something like "Woohoo" and following it up with a dance and/or a fist pump.

But what if it is negative? Should you focus on what you could lose or on what you could gain from the criticism?

If you are like me (unfortunately), your focus will be almost entirely on what you stand you lose, and how this threatens your self-worth. This is called threat based coping, and, for clear reasons, it is not the most positive, adaptive response to criticism and job evaluations.

Not only will you tend to be defensive once you get the negative feedback (which turns bosses off usually), but you also will likely wind up performing more poorly if your anxiety level rises too much or you become resentful. And, crucially, you will likely be so busy trying to stand up for yourself that you miss all of the points that could have helped you improve and keep the boss happy(which is the important part). Even if you think the boss is nuts, it is likely some of his or her criticisms have some truth.

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The more adaptive response is what researchers call challenge based coping. In this method of coping with criticism, the focus is on what you can gain, not on what you stand to lose. So, basically, you view the negative feedback as a challenge, as sort of an adventure that can guide you into improving and being a better worker and person. This will be met with approval by your employer, who not only wants his or her beliefs about your performance to date affirmed, but also wants to know that you listen and are striving for improvement. This signals a friendly motivation to the employer and dedication to helping the company, both of which are obviously good things from the employer's perspective.

Viewing criticism from bosses as a challenge to be met is an effective way to ensure job success and lowered stress.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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