As you advance in your career, you may find yourself thinking about the day your position will be sufficiently elevated that you won’t get so much criticism.
It’s the other way around, sorry.
As you gain more responsibility, you will be criticized more – and sometimes justly. You will make more mistakes, and, of graver consequence. You will need to grow thicker skin. And by the way, if you are thinking, I don’t mind criticism that is constructive, valid, given appropriately or from someone I respect, bad news. That means you’re sensitive to criticism.
The good news is you can get better and here’s how to grow thicker skin faster.
Separate criticism from insult
Being thick-skinned does not mean you allow someone to demean you or insult you. If you feel the other person is being insulting, calmly call them on it. If someone says you have a stupid idea, listen. If they call you stupid, that’s different. Correct them.
It’s not always about you
You are not important to most people, so when they criticize you, they are criticizing or reacting to many things (e.g., how they feel at that moment or what they think you did or did not do). Their reaction is based on information that may or may not be fallacious. People at call centers, who are some of the thickest skinned people in the world, are taught, correctly, that the angry caller is directing venom at you because you’re handy. And that is all too often the case in business. Take it seriously, but don’t take it personally.
Sit to one side of yourself
Sometimes in extreme stress people dissociate, a mental process that causing a person to feel separate and out of touch with themselves. It was like I was standing to one side watching myself, is a common statement in dissociation. In some cases, however, a little conscious dissociation is healthy. If you can mentally sit beside yourself when you are being criticized, it will help you focus on what is being said to you versus said about you.
Listen before you defend
You may see, early on, that the person is misinformed. Resist the impulse to immediately defend. Keep listening. You may not learn anything from the criticism, but you will most certainly learn something about the person.
Don’t logic chop
It’s too bad, but many people reach anger and frustration before they voice criticism. Contrary to common belief, most of us do not possess excellent communication skills and when we are emotional it gets even worse. If you parse and examine every word and phrase, you will not listen well.
Find the part that is valid
Criticism is rarely all on target, but it’s also rarely completely off target. You’ll benefit from taking an active role in finding the part that is valid, even if it is only 10 percent of the message.
Think about it
What seems unfair and off target now may make more sense to you in an hour. If you don’t have to react immediately, don’t. Instead say, “I’ll think about what you just said.” Later, if it’s wrong, explain why; if it’s right, say it is (and usually at least some of it is right).
Will the above make getting criticized fun? Probably not; that’s unrealistic. But it will make it easier – and more productive for both sides.
Robyn Porterfield is Managing Principal and Bob Rose Principal of Dallas-based Rose Porterfield Group. They consult to executive teams in a wide range of business areas dealing with people at work.