Every generation of workers has their own ‘flavor’ of stereotypes they must overcome. You new grads have been labeled as a bunch of kids who don’t tolerate criticism. The workplace may be changing over the years, but one thing remains universal: you can’t please everyone (co-workers, boss, customers, vendors) and you are going to hear about how you’ve fallen short. No matter how skilled you are (or think you are) at your job, someone else will think differently from time to time. If they’re someone of influence—your boss, their boss, a customer or client—their opinion matters as much, maybe more, than yours.
How you handle criticism will demonstrate to your boss and co-workers just how arrogant or humble you are, and they will use that knowledge when it comes time to distribute high-visibility assignments, send candidates to management training, or even approve time off. Being able to ‘roll with the punches’ and keep a good attitude even while faced with changing goals and less-than-savory remarks about your work, is a highly-sought-after job skill that can put you head and shoulders above your peers.
Before you even get into the situation of having to deal with on-the-job criticism, try to prepare yourself to react appropriately:
First, is your boss’ comment really a criticism? If he’s pointing out that you’re ‘falling behind’ or the ‘worst member of the team’, listen to the reasons why—if none are given, (respectfully) ask for them. He’s not criticizing you if he’s stating fact: “You turned in only three of the five reports I asked for this week” means that you actually did do a poor job. Deal with the fact that you're not a stellar performer by asking how you can do better next time.
Second, if it really is criticism that’s being tossed your way, is it deserved? When given an assignment, be certain that you fully understand what’s required of you and…do it. Do it well, do it accurately, do it on time, and do it neatly. If you’re not willing to check off all these boxes on every task your boss gives you (no matter how trivial it may seem), you’re simply setting yourself up for (well-deserved) criticism.
Lastly, remain professional if criticism comes your way. Don’t react by ‘blowing a gasket’ or flinging venomous remarks back at the messenger. Use the opportunity to ask questions to gather all the facts, then either iron out any miscommunications or misunderstandings, or vow to improve your performance next time around. This will bunk that nasty stereotype and show that you're truly ready for the workforce. But, on the other hand, if you think you’re the only ‘right’ one in this interaction, be prepared for the consequences…which could potentially be as severe as being out on the streets again looking for a job, without a reference from this one.
About this Examiner: Kathryn Marion is the award-winning author of GRADS: TAKE CHARGE of Your First Year After College!, the most comprehensive resource for navigating the world of work and independent living after graduation, as well as host of the book’s companion resource site, www.GradsTakeCharge.com. The print edition of GRADS: TAKE CHARGE is available through Amazon and other online booksellers. The e-book edition is available through e-junkie.
Kathryn also coaches students, graduates, and career changers as well as consults with small businesses and aspiring authors.