From Review To Raise: A Realistic Look At How To Handle Criticism

The annual performance review process isn’t really a beloved business tradition. In general, employees hate them. And I think that feeling stems from the inherent presence of criticism in the review process. No one likes hearing that they didn’t do a good job.

Now I would love to type inspiring messages fit for desk calendars everywhere about how you’re faults can become your strengths, teaching everyone to turn those negatives into positives and those frowns upside down. It would be a lot easier to say, “Don’t get emotional,” or “Try not to sound defensive,” and call it a day. As if those were two super-easy steps that no one should have a problem with.

Well, if we’re going to utilize the review process and try to grow from it, we need to acknowledge something: Criticism sucks. It’s not fun. It hurts to hear that you’ve done something wrong. Even worse, if you feel that your criticism isn’t justified, it’s excruciating to grit your teeth while your boss complains about something that had nothing to do with you or was out of your control. I can feel the vein in my forehead bulging at the thought of it.

Instead of pretending that criticism is just another stepping stone on the path to happiness, we’re going to look at some tips to help you get through it and maybe even profit from it, without all the cliche nonsense. At least, that’s the goal. If I don’t succeed at my goal, how about you do me a favor and keep it to yourself this time? Criticism is hard on all of us.

  • Be prepared. Hopefully, you’ve already analyzed your own performance this year. This should give you an idea of the critique that you’re going to receive and make you feel more prepared to confront any lingering issues.
  • Tips to control your emotions. We all know that we can’t start crying or screaming at the top of our lungs. We remember what happened last year. But it’s pretty easy to say, “Control your emotions.” It’s a lot harder to do so when you’re entire body is screaming for you to jump up and challenge your boss to a duel. As corny as it sounds, try counting to ten in your head. Even better, recite some song lyrics to one of your favorites. Distracting your mind for a minute gives you a chance to process and cool down. Find a focal point and concentrate on it, so that darting eyes don’t give away your natural escape instinct flaring up. And try to keep a relaxed posture. Crossing your arms and clenching your muscles will only continue to send, “This SUCKS,” signals to your brain.
  • Think  before you speak. Your natural reaction will be to explain yourself and the circumstance. This could come off as that terrible sin, “defensive.” Because, ya know, defending yourself when someone is attacking you is completely irrational and uncalled for. But this is the business world we live in, so my suggestion is to risk the awkward pause and think through what you want to say before you open your mouth. Don’t interrupt while they’re talking. Figure out the best way to acknowledge their concern and address the problem, then try to communicate.
  • Move your boss towards the solution. Instead of listening to the litany of issues they see with your work, try to get them talking about the goals for correcting these issues. You can suggest your own solutions, but also make sure to ask, “So what would you like to see from me in the future to correct this?” Show them that you want to move forward and fix the problem, instead of debating it. By looking forward and working to make your boss happy, you’re taking responsibility for the problem and your boss will appreciate that. [tagbox tag="performance reviews"]
None of these tips make criticism suck any less. In fact, once you’ve gotten through this review, I firmly believe that you deserve a stiff drink or a sweet treat, whatever works for you. But just because reviews come with criticism doesn’t mean that we need to despise the whole process. Even if it contains a few things you don’t want to hear, it’s a scheduled discussion about your career and it’s path with your boss. You shouldn’t let the chance to negotiate for a raise or take on more responsibility in your department pass you by. Criticism sucks, but it doesn’t have to ruin your entire review.
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