Receiving Constructive Criticism. Oh, The Joy.

If you like your job and like money, then you are probably the type of person who cares about your job and wants to keep it. You probably even care what your boss thinks of you.

Of course, that is a pretty subjective thing. You may be convinced that you are awesome and it you may be certain that your awesomeness is pretty obvious to your boss too. However, it is pretty important that your boss is also convinced of this and not simply overlooking your dazzling accomplishments.

You will never know for sure, whether or not your boss thinks you are living up to his expectations, unless you are getting honest feedback. When I say “honest feedback”, of course, I mean constructive criticism. Complements or superficial feedback are very nice, but they don’t actually help. If there is any room-for-improvement (or worse, if there are any problems), you need to know about it. So, if you are not receiving constructive criticism periodically, then you need to solicit some. Hopefully, your boss has to think it over for a few seconds (keep a stop-watch handy, when you ask him, heh).

The Constructive Part
Now, when nearly anyone thinks of the term “constructive criticism” your mind will immediately erase the word “constructive” from the sentence. There is only “criticism” + the-way-that-you-choose-to-accept-the-criticism. If you choose to label it as “constructive”, “personal attack” or just downright “destructive and mean”, well, that is your choice. It might sound impossible to intentionally mis-label some criticism, when clearly it is not delivered in a friendly or tactful manner. However, your sense of professionalism needs to do that exact thing. When you are on-the-clock, you must have one box of labels. It says “constructive”. Leave the other labels at home. I’m telling the truth here. You need that feedback. You don’t need to label it.

One thing that makes this more difficult (if not impossible, on some level) is when the feedback is coming from an intense person. Intense people are not very good at getting the “constructive” part to come through. Any words that aren’t positive (neutral or not-so-much), are likely to make you feel defensive. Keeping a cool head can be pretty hard, under those circumstances.

To make things even harder, if/when you do manage to keep a level head, it really seems to irritate intense people. When they deliver bad news, they expect to get a reaction out of you. Some even expect you to mirror them. When they turn red, they expect you to do the same. If you don’t, they seem to get the impression that you don’t care or you have a lackadaisical attitude. Sometimes, they feel like they need to crank-up the intensity to 11 or 12, just to see if they can get through to you.

Intense people seem un-friendly sometimes

At the end of it all, you need to keep your cool by staying focused. Your goal is: the perception of high quality. Sometimes, you need to jump through a few hoops to get there:

  1. Find out what the boss wants and what his boss wants from you. Occasionally, you might need to explain yourself but since actions speak louder than words, you need to determine what/which actions you need to do (or not do), to get an “A”. Talk is cheap (from you). Save your breath.
  2. Find out the real priorities (all of them). Write them down. Send it back to the boss and get confirmation that the list is accurate and complete. Now this goal is more achievable because you know the goals. It is much more finite.
  3. What is the perception du jour? What can be done to affect it? Remember: sometimes when the perception is flat-wrong, it will simply take time for it to correct itself. Campaigning might help or make it worse. Think about that before you choose to start campaigning.
  4. Always take the high road and be professional. If someone else is being nasty, just drop it. Don’t engage in that sort of mess. People will already know who are the negative people in the office and what they are all-about. Don’t ever bring yourself down to that level. You don’t want people chanting “Jer-ry, Jer-ry, Jer-ry” when you walk through the door. (I’ve seen it happen).

So, seek constructive criticism, and when you receive it, do the professional thing. Accept it graciously and talk about what can/should be done to make reparations. Resist the urge to get defensive. And always stay classy.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in Career, Professionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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