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5 ways to gain from criticism

We all want to feel like we're "good" at our jobs. More than ever, our identities are tied up in our professions. Upon meeting someone new, we ask,"What do you do?" not, "What are your favorite hobbies?" or, "What kind of parent are you?" Because work defines us in such a substantial way, even constructive criticism can feel like a blow. 

Yet being able to accept and process criticism is crucial to success in the workplace. "You are not paid to be a diva, and if you act like one, you won't get promoted," said Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. Eventually, resistance to criticism may even get you fired. In other words, if you get defensive and shut down when criticized, you won't be able to utilize negative remarks so they can have a positive affect on your career trajectory.

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Here are 5 tips to help you use criticism to your advantage:

Listen and ask questions

It's very important to listen carefully (taking notes may help) and to ask questions -- not only will it help you understand the issue, but it'll show your interest in solving it. "Showing empathy for the person giving the criticism will also work in your favor. Say things like, 'I wasn't aware of that -- where do we go from here?'" suggested executive coach Susan Steinbrecher.

Think about the source

Some criticism needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, is this critique coming from someone who you need to impress and/or respect (such as your boss or mentor) or someone who might want you to second-guess yourself (such as a competitive co-worker)? "If the person is an expert who understands you and your skills and background, the criticism may well be valid and useful. If the person is not an expert or doesn't know you then the information may be less helpful," said career coach David Couper. By the same token, it's probably best to let unhelpful career advice from your hairdresser or mother-in-law slide off your back.

Consider sleeping on it

Particularly if you are prone to defensiveness, you might consider listening to criticism, then asking for a follow-up conversation the next day. "You can revisit [the issues] with the boss the next morning, and that action will make you appear as a thoughtful employee," said Elizabeth Lions, author of Recession Proof Yourself! Not only will you be less likely to blow up or get defensive, but you may begin to solve the problem so you can truly make the criticism an opportunity for future success.

Give thanks for the critique

It's important to give genuine thanks for constructive criticism, especially if you consider it at all helpful. "Expressing your gratitude conveys your belief that: 1) the person giving the feedback is someone you respect and trust and 2) you are open to constructive feedback," says Cohen. Showing that you are open to receiving criticism demonstrates that you are a team player, not a prima donna.

See the silver lining

Even if you're generally pessimistic, try to see the full half of the glass. "It may not feel like it in the moment -- but criticism is a learning opportunity, which is truly a gift," Steinbrecher said. "If it is received in a positive light, it can be used to advance personal growth and development and may ultimately further your career." If the powers that be didn't think you brought value to your team, they wouldn't offer criticism -- they would just wait for an opportunity to cut you from the roster.

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