How to Handle Criticism With Grace

Let's face it, no one likes to be criticized. It's a blow to your ego and the feedback you receive can leave you on an emotional rollercoaster.

Receiving constructive criticism is par for the course when you're a creative professional – but that doesn't make it easy. Even those with the thickest skins may sometimes feel stung by feedback. But if you trust your abilities, listen closely and make yourself open to suggestions, your work will improve and so will your professional reputation.

Here are seven tips on how to handle criticism with grace:

1. Listen with both ears. It's tempting to prepare your "defense" when someone is critiquing your work, but try to stay present and actively listen to what's being said. If you're busy interjecting responses – or formulating them in your mind – the information will likely go in one ear and out the other.

Rather than launching into a rebuttal once the critique is finished, repeat the main points of the feedback. This signals that you're genuinely paying attention and helps ensure that you and your manager or client are on the same page regarding changes that need to be made.

2. Let your defenses down. If you respond defensively to what's been said with phrases such as, "But I thought that's what you wanted" or "This is what I was told to do," you'll only make things harder for yourself and the person delivering the critique. Remember to focus your response on the work, not on yourself or the person critiquing you. If you disagree with a suggestion, try phrasing your concern in the form of a question. For example, rather than, "That font is difficult to read," try, "Do you think that font will be easy to read?"

3. Explain your rationale. While you don't want to come across as defensive, you also don't want to leave your manager or the client with the impression that your work is haphazard. When faced with a significant revision, always explain why you chose to do something a certain way ­– just be sure your explanation is centered on the work and doesn't become personal. For example: "I chose a lighter style because our market research indicated that humor was well received by our target audience."

4. Don't become too attached. Maybe you've written a perfect tagline for a product ­– it's funny, smart and speaks directly to your target audience. Every one of your coworkers declares it "brilliant." You race into your boss's office to show it to her but when you do, you're told that it's a little too far "out there" for this particular client. She suggests you take one word of your original tagline and build on that, coming up with a toned down version.

It's easy, after you've poured hours of hard work into creating something original, to assume that you've come up with the best solution. But there's often more than one "best" way to do something. There may, in fact, be a better way to do it. Try not to become so attached to your work that you aren't able to look at it objectively and be open to others' input.

5. Ask questions. If you're uncertain of what someone is trying to say to you, don't nod and pretend to understand – ask questions. Even if you're shocked by the critique, try to put those feelings aside and focus on what you need to know to prevent another significant revision.

6. Focus on a solution. There may be a million thoughts swimming through your head during a critique ­– I'm going to be fired! This client doesn't know what he's doing! How was I supposed to know the project was supposed to be done this way? Focusing on a solution, such as how and when you will implement changes, will help you eliminate these distractions.

7. Keep things in perspective. It's easy to forget all of your successes when you've just been told to scrap your work and start from scratch. But don't become bogged down by negative thoughts and insecurities, especially if the majority of your work has received high praise. The perfectionist in all of us comes out at times like these, but if you remind yourself of other successes you'll be able to approach the current project with more confidence.

If serious criticism becomes the rule and not the exception, however, you need to take action. Have a candid discussion with your manager to find out where the problem lies. You may find that your style simply isn't a fit with your current company. On the other hand, your supervisor may suggest concrete steps you can take to improve, such as taking a class or changing how you communicate.

Do you have other tips on how to handle criticism at work? Let us know in a comment below.

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