No one is perfect, and no matter how hard you work at your job every day, some things won’t turn out the way you planned. You might beat yourself up for making an error or saying something you didn’t really mean, but when someone else calls you on it, it takes everything up a notch.

How can you respond when someone criticizes you at work? Taking criticism is one of the hardest parts of professional life. No one likes to hear someone else say something negative about how they performed.

But is all criticism negative? Here are eight ways to deal with someone else’s comments.

1.Take a Deep Breath

Whatever comes to your mind first is not something that should come out of your mouth. Of course you are going to be defensive when your boss tells you a patient complained about your timing with medications. Maybe she doesn’t know the back story that you tried to give meds and was asked to come back after the patient’s visitors left.

Don’t expect the other person to know your side of the story, and keep that in mind when you want to reply with a biting comment. Escalating the conversation to a nasty tone will make things worse, not better.

2. Listen Carefully

All criticism is not bad. While it may be hard to hear, the meaning might not be negative in tone. If someone is telling you that you did something wrong, think about the reasons behind what’s being said.

If the comment has to do with patient safety or satisfaction and you did mess up, this is an opportunity to do your job better. If the remarks have to do with an action that’s based on a bigger, systemic problem, the criticism can open the door to discuss how to make things better for your whole unit.

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3. Be Cordial

Keep your tone steady and even while you are talking. Don’t pull others into the conversation and don’t start blaming other people. If your coworkers were part of the problem, you don’t have to take all the blame, but you do need to think about how to present your information.

If you’re able to, tell the person who is criticizing you that you hear what they are saying and you want time to think about it so you can have a thoughtful discussion. Ask to return to the topic in 24 hours and then get back to them in that amount of time or sooner. If both sides are feeling defensive and heated, this time allows each of you to cool off a little.

4. Reflect Honestly

Is a coworker upset with you because you leave the nurse’s station a mess? Is a new nurse feeling overwhelmed with the patient load you have given her?

If the criticism isn’t based on completely false information, step back and assess. What role are you playing in the scenario? What did happen that caused someone else to point it out to you? What can you do to fix the problem?

5. Work on a Solution

You’ve been told there’s a problem or an issue and that you played a part in it. Now it’s up to you to try to figure out how to make things better. No matter how difficult it is to do, stepping up and accepting responsibility for your actions is important for your credibility. Your colleagues will have much more respect for you if you don’t overreact to criticism or try to deflect the blame.

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6. Keep It Quiet

You might want to bad mouth your boss for criticizing you (especially if it was done in front of others), but resist that urge. Keeping a positive and professional attitude will do more for your professional reputation than getting the personal satisfaction of complaining about your boss.

7. Keep an Eye on the Future

When anyone is criticized at work, people often remember how a person reacted first. Years later, colleagues might not remember the mistake you made, but they will remember if you responded professionally and appropriately or not. As you could potentially someday report to any of those people, have an interview with them, or even become their boss, how they perceive your action can have lasting impact on your career.

8. Move On

You are not perfect and you will make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will be judged more harshly than others and not always fairly. Try to turn any criticism around so that you improve in some way moving forward. If the criticism was biting, unfair, and not based on fact, you might learn how to deliver criticism correctly when the shoe is on the other foot. If the criticism is right on target, make changes to correct whatever you can and to ensure the mistake won’t be repeated.

Whatever you do, don’t let the criticism knock you down. Learn, take responsibility, and keep moving forward.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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