March 5, 2013
Called out by the boss? How to handle it
Scenario 1: You're staring at your boss during your performance review and can't believe the criticism you're receiving.
Scenario 2: You've just presented an idea during a staff meeting and your boss criticizes it in front of the entire department.
You want to tell her what you think, but you know that if you do, you'll likely damage your career. What should you do when you want to call your boss the B-word?
Be professional and proactive
The most important aspect of handling criticism is to exhibit professionalism. Take a deep breath, remain composed and do not become defensive.
"View the criticism constructively as a growth opportunity. If you feel it is unwarranted criticism, absorb it and, at a later time, ask for a meeting to discuss your concerns calmly and professionally," says Seattleite Kathleen M. Sturgess, MA, NCC, a professor at the University of Phoenix and a mental health professional.
A tactic to pre-empt public criticism from managers is to meet with them early on in your relationship to discuss communication preferences and boundaries. During this discussion, "set a 'contract' with your manager on what is considered appropriate and inappropriate feedback," advises Bruce Avolio, Ph.D., executive director for the University of Washington's Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking at the Foster School of Business. This proactive approach can help prevent negative criticism from occurring in a public forum.
Don't take things personally
It can be difficult not to take criticism personally, especially when it is unexpected or given in front of others. But as Sturgess says, "It's not about you, really. It's about the chance to improve and develop within your career. If you immediately become defensive, ask yourself why. What is the internal issue you're struggling with that elicits such a reaction?"
Also remember that sometimes criticism from bosses might be due to factors not related to you or your behavior. They might be angry because they were irritated by their own boss. According to Avolio, this is called the fundamental attribution error. "When you feel the urge to blame yourself, zoom out and see how the situation or context may have impacted what happened."
Try to control your (hurt) feelings
Realize that this is a work situation, not your personal life. "This is your boss, not your bestie," reminds Sturgess. "Hear what your boss has to say, thank her and move on. Having an argument with her is not going to do anyone any good."
Don't let your hurt feelings affect your performance. "Localize your feelings to the problem at hand and don't let it spread," Avolio says. "Feelings are recoverable, and there are states of being, so you go from one state to the other by the choices you make."
If you feel the criticism was unwarranted or given in an inappropriate location, consider discussing the situation with your boss. "Ask for permission to provide feedback, as your boss may not realize [he or she] hurt your feelings," Avolio adds. "Many times they don't know."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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