Don't take it personal!

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

When you are just setting out into the world of work you will without a doubt make mistakes and get things wrong. That is part of the learning experience when starting out in a new role but sometimes we can fool ourselves into believing that we must get it all right straight away in order to prove our worthiness.

Very quickly, we can get deeply attached to the work we are delivering. When you get praised for your work it feels great and it strokes the ego. But when peers or seniors provide you with criticism we can very quickly fall into the trap of doubting our abilities of doing a good job.

"If someone corrects you and you feel offended then you have an ego problem."

- Nouman Ali Khan

I remember the first time I received constructive criticism. I had been working on a new project for some weeks but most of my team members were in a different location so I never had a chance to meet them face-to-face. I had been provided with the task of creating our resourcing and budgeting plan for the new project and was keen to make a good impression on the new colleagues.

But because there was little interaction with my project manager at the time I had been working in a bit of a bubble, thinking I was doing the right planning that was required. Turns out I was getting it completely wrong and eventually my PM gave me a call.

“Dan, I think there are some good elements in this plan but you completely forgot to factor in…” I can’t really remember the rest of the sentence because I straightaway went into panic and defense mode.

I tried to explain, justify and avoid. Anything but face the uncomfortable words of criticism I was facing. After the conversation had ended things actually got worse because now I was feeling really insecure.

Doubt would creep up every time I would perform a new task. Even the ones that I had performed well on! The criticism I had received had scratched my ego. The image I had created about myself had been cracked and I was no longer feeling confident in my actions. I was fretting about everything now.

And it was absolutely pointless.

The constructive words of feedback that my colleague gave me were work related. They didn’t have anything to do with me as a person or my abilities to do a good job. I had to learn to not take words of criticism personally. And it took a lot of time, nerves and sleepless nights.

Stop living through your ego

Understand that when you face criticism – and you will – that it should be seen as a learning experience rather than a character review of who you are and what you have to offer to the world.

The sooner we realise that we need to remove the ego when facing negative feedback the faster we can bounce back and deliver the great work that we are capable of.

It requires an ability to separate the ego from your work and as a young person just starting out that can be a big challenge at first. But with time you will get to understand to not take criticism personal.

When facing criticism ask yourself:

“How can I frame this feedback as learning experience?”

“What are the intentions behind the criticism received?”

“Is this feedback related to who I am as a person or about the work itself?” (Hint: they are not the same)

When we start re-framing criticism that we initially perceived to be negative then we allow ourselves to move beyond the ego. And once you get out of your head you will often find that the solution to your problems are easier to find.

Instead of feeling resentment towards the person who criticised, you may feel gratitude because they took the time to provide you with feedback. Thank them when you notice this coming up. The last thing we want is to get defensive and shoot back at them, potentially harming the relationship.

Re-frame negative feedback so that it serves rather than hinders you

Look at it this way: once practiced to perfection, criticism can actually work as a trigger for rapid, positive action. You will become much easier to work with. You will build up a reputation for dealing well with feedback and using it to become better at your job. It will invite better collaboration with your peers and you will grow as a person as a consequence.

As with everything, dealing with negative feedback will require practice. But it can work to your advantage if dealt with correctly.

Now go out there and create undeterred by what people might think of you or your work!

This is part 1 of 5 articles I am writing on a series titled: “5 things I wish I had known before joining the corporate world.”

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