A mentor of mine gave me some invaluable advice about handling criticism. I went through a period in which I felt I was being attacked by some of my peers. It was during this difficult time that I was offered the approach to handling criticism that is described in the sections that follow. I have found the approach useful ever since.
Determine Whether What Someone Is Saying Is True
Regardless of the delivery, is what's being said true? If it isn't, disregard it. In most cases, you don't have to defend yourself from wild and untrue statements.
However, if the statement is true, you need to take the next step.
Determine Whether It Is Something You Need to Change
Someone might "attack" you or make a derogatory comment about something that is not critical or does not actually require a change.
A few years ago, my wife dyed her hair a dark red. It looked great. However, a well-meaning friend commented that she felt my wife's hair looked too "wild." My wife's first reaction was to second-guess her decision. She struggled for a while trying to decide if she should re-dye her hair back to its original color.
I assured her that she looked great, but that she needed to feel comfortable. She determined that "wild" was a subjective opinion and that most people loved the color. There was no need for her to argue with her critic or to make a justification.
The same is true when evaluating the input of a person with whom you work. Remember, people are where they are.
If, however, you determine that you should change something, do so. Put a plan in action to correct the problem.
Using this methodology provides a relatively unemotional method of dealing with criticism. Even if the criticism was in essence an attack, you can learn from it, make adjustments, and move on.
Talk to Someone About a Behavior
At some point, however, someone's behavior might put work performance at jeopardy. If that is the case, the best you can do is talk to that person. If handled tactfully, you can do this with management, too.
We have been conditioned to believe that correction and input is a boss-down phenomenon. However, most good managers and employers want input from their employees. Most people who are abrasive are aware of their behavior. Some simply choose to remain the same regardless. Others have struggled to change. In fact, you might be surprised at how much better these people are now than they used to be!
However, asking for an appointment with this person and letting him know how his behavior affects you or the department can go a long way toward helping to diffuse the situation.
An attorney I was doing work for once asked for this type of input. He was a well-compensated and high-powered partner. I was doing a high-profile project involving a business transaction worth nearly one billion dollars. He was rightfully concerned about the project and interrupted me constantly.
"How is this coming along?" "Is this going to work right?" "Why are you doing it this way?"
The barrage of questions was constant. I eventually had to tell him that he needed to leave me alone for longer periods of time if he wanted me to make headway. Later, over lunch he said, "Tell me to get out of your face if I become a pest; otherwise, I'll bother you constantly."
As mentioned previously, many difficult people understand this about themselves. They often respect those who stand up to them. But make sure you do it tactfully.
Don't Swallow Your Pride—Control It
One of the benefits of IT is the pride you can take in your work. The pride of production is a great fringe benefit. You can go home at the end of the day and know you have made an impact on the functional workings of a business. An overemphasis on pride, however, can make working with difficult people impossible.
I have heard many people, after leaving a company or walking out on a difficult boss, say, "I have too much pride; no one can treat me like that."
I understand their view. I have a lot of pride and also believe people should treat you with respect. However, remember that I also believe that people are "where they are." In a fantasy world, you can breeze through your career without ever having to deal with difficult people.
But I provide a different perspective on this. I believe that if you have confidence and a true sense of pride, you will not be emotionally impacted by those who say abrasive or inappropriate comments. Instead of thinking, "I have too much pride to put up with this," you could say, "I have so much pride that I can put up with this."
You will take what these people say, filter out the vitriol, leaving only the constructive suggestions. If none exist, no problem—you've filtered everything else out. This allows you to take advantage of the opportunity at hand. That's what I mean by controlling your pride.