How to deal with criticism

In the previous post we saw how we can help a low performer to work better. In this post we’ll see the flip side of that story. Sometimes you’re at the receiving end of this help. Which is, very bluntly, criticism. You need to be able to deal with that.

There are several types of feedback. I’ll show you here how to deal with them.

Types of feedback

There are several types of feedback. The main categories are: positive, constructive and negative.

Positive feedback means that somebody is complimenting you. Negative feedback is that somebody tells you that you’re doing something wrong. Constructive feedback is that somebody tells you’re doing something wrong – and discusses possible solutions with you.

Positive feedback

Positive feedback isn’t criticism. It’s just a fancy word for compliments. Most of us find it easy to take a compliment.

Still, sometimes you might feel inconvenient to do so. Probably you’re sensing that somebody is trying to manipulate through flattery. Probably you’re right.

If you can accept hardly any compliments, then you have very low self esteem. A therapist could help you a lot.

Negative feedback

Sometimes your team lead or your customer will tell you that they are not satisfied with your performance. Sometimes they will combine it with some sort of ultimatum, like either you cooperate or you can look for a job someplace else. Usually, this hurts a little. But it’s a great opportunity too. Let me explain.

There are several strategies that people use:

  1. You might be defensive. You could explaining that this and that wasn’t your fault. You might point out that your team lead made the same exact mistakes that you made. This won’t do you any good.
  2. You might start to argue. You might point out that you’re pulling extra hours. You can also point to your successful projects too. But this won’t do any good to you either.
  3. You might start to conform with the expectations. You could promise that you’ll work better and faster. Well, this might be useful, if there are some obvious problems with your work ethics. Otherwise it’ll cause burnout syndrome.

I don’t recommend any of those strategies. E.g. for arguing: you point it out to your team lead that you’re doing a good job. I.e. you’re telling them that they’re accusing you with something that you didn’t do. I guess it would make people furious. Even if you’re right, you need to make them understand it themselves.

What you should really do is to turn this conversation into constructive criticism. We’ll see how.

Constructive criticism

If your manager is willing to discuss his problems with you, then you are starting from a win-win situation. You have to do the same things as you would do with negative criticism. There is only one difference: if your manager wants to discuss things with you then it’s easier for you to take these steps.

What to do

So let’s see what you can do. I think your first goal should be to understand the problem. You need to learn as much as possible. Then you can either solve it or walk away.

1. Cooperation

Your number one goal here is to be on the same page with your critic. Loose your ego a little and ask about their problem.

Say for instance, you could say something like this: “I understand that you are not happy with my technical knowledge. Which part are you unhappy with? Is it Java? Is it SQL?”

There are lots of things that your boss might want you to do. But you just keep asking, nodding. Generally, it’s a good idea to summarize what you understood so far. Taking notes is a good idea too. Your goal here is to learn what they expect from you.

It’s crucial to put yourself into their shoes. First of all, it’ll make you look more trustworthy. Secondly, they will come up with lots of details, so you’ll know what they expect from you. Once you know what they need, you can make an informed decision, whether you’re willing to do that.

2. Measurable goals

Any reasonable manager would agree with this: you need to measure your improvement. Unfortunately, software development is very difficult to measure.

Anyway, you need clear and measurable goals that both of you understand. Like, every boss might expect you to write code with fever defects. If this is what they want  from you, then you need to know exactly how much defects are tolerable.

You also need some sort of deadline. E.g. most leaders need you to change right now. But realistically they can expect you to change during a couple of months. Again, you need to talk with your manager and try to agree on something that’s good for him, and hopefully, you can do that too.

3. Promise

Now you know what they expect from you. Is it reasonable? Can you do it? Are you willing to do it? Well, then say so.

What do you do when you know that you can fulfill only some of their needs? If you trust them, then you can start to bargain. You can explain what they can reasonably expect from you.

If you just don’t know what you can do then it’s also okay to say so. Just like this: “Okay, boss, I understand what you want me to do. I just don’t know if I can do it. I’ll do my best anyway, and we’ll see the results in a week or two.”

4. Walk away

Sometimes you just don’t want to do what they ask you to. And that’s okay too. There are plenty legitimate reasons for this. Maybe pulling 11 hours days just isn’t your thing. Maybe they want you to write dirty code and you just don’t believe that it’ll help the company.

Sometimes you just don’t fit into a company culture. It’s not your fault. Not their fault either. But you can do yourself a favor and walk away.

Some companies will you give another chance in another team. They are the ones who understand that different roles require different professional profiles. If you work in such a company, then the safest thing you can do is to start over at another department.

Other employers just don’t get this. They think some people are good enough while others aren’t. Then, shut your mouth and walk away.

How do you walk away? Yeah, contact a headhunter or a recruiter. Former colleagues could help too. Try to avoid office gossip if possible.



About tamasrev

A software developer, specialized in Java, addressing himself as generalist. A proud daddy.
This entry was posted in programming, soft skills and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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