Everyone has been there: getting complimented and not knowing whether to smile or look pleasantly indifferent, all while trying to come off happy but not arrogant. An issue that frequently affects women, confidence intertwines with the way we handle praise. In an effort to show humility, many women will softly smile and look down when someone compliments their work, uttering “thank you” when the time comes. This method offers the path of least resistance, but what if we could use recognition to fuel ourselves and our teams?
The opposite rings true as well — when a superior has a disapproving word to say about your work, what is the best way to respond? Do you convey deference or offer up your defense on the matter? No one likes to be told they have done something wrong, but instead of ignoring the feedback or putting up a fight, learning to how to take constructive criticism can help you grow, both professionally and personally.
Below, are some ways to turn a quick compliment or critique into an even more productive conversation.
Women, in particular, quickly denounce their work and feel uncomfortable when applauded in front of a group. After you put in the effort and someone recognizes it, dismissing a compliment or saying “it’s nothing” is a disservice to you as well as your company. Even though it may feel uncomfortable, holding eye contact with the person giving you a compliment shows you are present in the conversation and agree with their statements.
Keep your chin level and say something like, “Thank you, I am glad I was able to deliver, and I am happy to be a part of this team.” Looking excited and engaged shows that you believe in yourself as well as your work. Coworkers will notice the way you respect yourself and follow your lead in treating you as someone who deserves high esteem.
Of course, give credit to your peers who deserve it, too, without undermining your role in the effort. Many people feel the need to ramble on and on when their turn to speak rolls around. In this situation, fewer words are better words. In thanking your team and acknowledging your work without relishing in the spotlight, you earn respect rather than demand it. With confidence as the foundation, you set the precedent for the way others treat you and allow your work to speak for itself.
Mistakes happen. Issues pop up. No matter how small, mishaps can make us doubt ourselves, especially when someone points them out. Regardless of the gravity of the mistake, take responsibility immediately. The sooner you address the issue, the less likely a larger problem will arise. Not only does this negate any back-and-forth blaming, but it also halts your first-reaction defense mechanisms. Rather than taking it personally, you handle the mistake right away and can move forward with a solution.
If the criticism comes as part of a larger discussion, do the same. Listen first and allow yourself time to evaluate before responding; ask questions about what they took issue with, ensuring you fully understand their statements. We often forget that we have the right to say, “I would like some time to think about this.” Again, responding right away incites emotion rather than reason and rationality. Regrouping later allows for reflection and careful consideration of your reply.
When returning to discuss, have your main points ready to go after you have deconstructed your original reactions. For instance, rather than saying, “I see your point, but I think you received it differently than I intended,” you can state, “I see your point and I think my original intent was different than the way it came across.” Refraining from using the word “but” to replace it with “and” takes people off the defensive. Moreover, making your statement less of a personal attack and omitting any implication that they were the issue makes way for productive resolution. Prepare for pushback after anticipating possible responses and utilize the same language for these, polite but firm.
Just as with taking a compliment, keep your chin parallel to the floor to avoid looking up or down. After tactfully explaining your considerations, thank them for the feedback and iterate the ways you plan on fixing the issue in the future. Once you have everything out on the table, change the subject to something positive about working together.
Criticism can be just as important to your career as praise. If used correctly, these instances can make you a better employee and stronger leader. Presenting yourself as a capable team member that remains calm in the midst of highs and lows sets you apart from the rest. This starts with being graceful and confident, no matter the situation. No successful person enjoys an entire career without negative feedback. That success stems directly from their ability to capitalize on the lessons they learn from their team along the way.