Ask the intern: How to deal with criticism in the workplace
“Hello Laetitia. I recently handed in a piece of work at my internship and my boss sent it back with lots of corrections since I misunderstood what I was supposed to research. I feel like I’ve let her down and now I’m worried about sending in other pieces of work in case the same thing happens. Do you have any advice about how to deal with criticism at work? I’m not sure how to react in a situation like this. – Marianna”
Hi Marianna, thanks for getting in touch. You’re right that dealing with criticism can be tough, and can often overshadow any praise that we receive. However, experiencing criticism is normal, since people have differing opinions on how a piece of work should be done and presented. In the workplace, criticism is not necessarily a negative thing. While it may come across that way, ultimately your supervisor just wants to help you improve. It’s hard not to take their comments personally, so here are my tips on how to deal with criticism at work.
How to deal with criticism at work
1. Ask questions
First of all, make sure that you understand where you’ve gone wrong. If something isn’t clear or you don’t understand a certain comment, don’t be afraid to ask for some clarification. This way, you can be sure to take the criticism on board for the next time. Also, talking it over with your boss will help you see that they are not criticizing you personally. They just want you to improve certain elements of your work. Take all comments from your management seriously. After all, you are an intern and your role is to learn from your colleagues; they are experts in the field!
2. Stay calm and take responsibility
Try to stay calm and don’t get defensive about what’s happened. Take a deep breath and remember to maintain a professional front. Often people get defensive and take criticism very personally. Don’t let it affect your self-confidence. Remember that this is constructive criticism. It is purely professional and is not an attack on you personally. If you made a mistake, own up to it and take responsibility. Don’t try and pass the blame onto anyone else, as this will just appear juvenile. Your boss is aware that these things happen, and accepting your mistake and remaining calm will portray humility and responsibility; two very important traits in the workplace..
3. Take a step back
Try to look at the criticism in a more objective way. It can be easy to become very invested in the criticism of your own work. If you go back to it a few days later, you will be able to view your work with a fresh mind and a new perspective. This is a good skill to learn, and will help you when working on bigger tasks and projects in the future. Perhaps next time you can send your work to another colleague or friend to look over before you hand in the final draft. The criticism will be easier to take on board when coming from someone who is closer to you.
4. Take it as a compliment
View the situation in a more positive light and take the criticism as a compliment. Your boss clearly thinks your work is good and will make a difference to the company if they are prepared to spend time reading over it and making corrections. If your work came back with no comments, this probably meant that it had little importance to your boss. Remember that you are here to learn more and that you will not be perfect the first time around. This learning comes from constructive criticism. You will feel much more satisfied with yourself when you receive praise for your work once you’ve taken the criticism on board later in your internship. Both you and your manager will be able to see your progress in the workplace.
5. Don’t apologise
If you tried your best on a piece of work, you need not apologise for it. It’s completely normal that there are improvements to be made, and again, this is a learning experience. Since it is not a personal critique, you don’t have to say that you’re sorry. Demonstrate strength instead of weakness by saying that you will take the comments on board for next time. This shows that you are proactive and dedicated, rather than appearing weak and offended.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Don’t let the criticism knock down your self-confidence. Understand that there are areas where you need to improve, but don’t think that you are worthless. Your supervisor may not feel the need to outline all the good things that you have done, so do it for yourself. Boost your confidence by listing all of the things that you’ve learned at your internship so far and how much you’ve excelled. This will help you use the criticism as a stepping stone to more success.
Lastly, in the words of Elbert Hubbard, “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment”.
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Photo 1. by The Intern Group.
Photo 2. by The Intern Group.
Photo 3. by The Intern Group.