The Surprising Gift You May Get from a Difficult Co-worker

November 23, 2015


Here’s why criticism from our detractors can be a gift, and steps for handling criticism more gracefully.

When someone cares about you or the outcome enough to criticize, thank them for their feedback. Besides acknowledging their viewpoint, a “thank you” surprises and often disarms them. You can acknowledge their viewpoint without being defensive and without agreeing with their conclusions.

1.   Start by listening to the criticism to be sure you understand it. Analyze what you are hearing: why is the criticism being made? Is the person trying to help, does the person want a better result? Or, is this person jealous, spiteful, angry or a chronic complainer? No matter what you think is motivating the person, carefully and objectively assess whether there is any truth to what they say. Look for the kernel of truth that you can learn from.

2.   Before, you respond, always make sure that you are calm and not angry. Anger and defensiveness cloud your thinking, so take a step back, breathe and start thinking instead of reacting. If your emotions are running high, let them know you appreciate them taking the time to bring it up and will think abut what they have said and respond later.

3.   Thank the person for their feedback or find something to agree with. If you feel the criticism is unjustified, state your reasoning and your perspective without being defensive. If you feel the critic has a point or there is anything you can agree with, acknowledge that and let them know you will do better. Appreciate how difficult it may be for this person to tell you directly and be grateful they took the time. (More about those who didn’t tell you directly but who criticized you behind your back later.)

4.   Respond from your head not your heart-- logically and calmly. Instead of being defensive, be honest. Share your reasons, acknowledge the other person’s points, if there’s any validity, and come to a rational conclusion. Or stay silent. If you can’t respond objectively then just don’t respond except to say “I didn’t realize I came across like that. Thanks for sharing your opinion. From my perspective…” or “I understand you have some concerns. We will need to agree to disagree on this.”

5.   DON’T ever respond with a counter attack, by blaming someone else or refusing to acknowledge or be accountable for your mistakes. Decide on a specific action you will take if the judgmental critic in your life continues to undermine you. Negativity is contagious; don’t let it infect you. Clearly, calmly, and firmly tell him or her that you are not willing to argue and don’t find their input helpful or constructive—let them know what you will do if it happens again. For example, you may decide to politely leave the room, or, if it’s serious enough, end the relationship or avoid the person. Be sure to follow through and take that action. When you respect yourself, you are modeling so that others respect you.

What about people who are trying to harm or sabotage me behind my back?
  When someone spreads rumors or lies that threaten your credibility, reputation or your job, you can’t ignore it. When you shrink from confronting saboteurs directly, they get stronger and bolder. This is a time for positive action. Don’t blame or shame the critics by calling them names. Instead, focus on flushing them out of the bushes and on clearing up inaccuracies. There may be real misunderstandings that you have the opportunity to erase with facts. Meet in person with those who have the misunderstanding and calmly explain how you feel and what the facts really are. If necessary, put the correction in writing and send it to those involved. You have stood up for yourself and can move on.
When people mock and criticize you to your face, at least you know where they stand. As for those who do it behind your back, be vigilant. You can ask: “ What’s up? I understand you have a problem with how I XXXX, Would you like to discuss it with me directly?” If you are attacked in public, ask the group whether everyone feels that way; this can make it easy for others to support you so you aren’t left to defend yourself.

Deal appropriately with damaging criticism, but don’t allow every petty and insignificant critic to pull you off track. Not every sarcastic comment deserves a response. Stay focused on what’s important so you can reach your goals. Instead of allowing your precious energy and attention to be sapped by naysayers, free yourself by letting go, and moving on.


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