DESIGNED BY FREEPIK (WWW.FREEPIK.COM)“YOU’RE too quiet, you need to be more sociable”—Crystal (not her real name), 40, once received this comment from a coworker. “You do not listen to me, you’re too hard-headed,” was another comment she got, this time from her boss.
Asked what she thought about these assessments, Crystal says the first statement was constructive enough and seemed to be prompted by the giver’s intention to build her confidence and to develop trust among the team. The second statement, she explains, was prompted by her fear that she would be asked to be less than truthful in a report she was working on. “That would be abuse of authority on my boss’ part,” she points out.
Many of us have dished out—and submitted to—our share of criticism, whether at work, at home, online, from people we work or live with, and even from total strangers. Is criticism bad—or is it all in your head? When does it cross the line from being constructive to bullying?
Criticisms will always be a part of one’s career and can be positive or negative depending on your interpretation, says Shawie Sulit, who spoke at the First Philippine Holdings Corporation webinar “No Offense Meant: How to Make Criticism Work for You” on Aug. 9, 2023.
Sulit is business development and sales director at MindNation, a mental health and well-being company founded in Singapore that services clients in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, India and Latin America.
Fair criticisms are fact-based statements directed at the recipient’s actions and are delivered in a respectful, constructive and nonthreatening way, Sulit says. On the other hand, destructive criticisms are prejudice-based attacks on one’s person and are given in a threatening or disrespectful manner. She adds that it could be written, verbal, electronic, physical or a combination of these forms.
Crossing over to bullying
Criticism of one’s colleague crosses over to bullying when the offender repeatedly criticizes, shouts and directs abusive language or offensive jokes at their target.
“We are all professionals, we need to be mindful if we are already offending someone,” Sulit cautions, noting that there is a proper time to joke and make people laugh.
What do you do when you get bullied or abused at work? Do you brush it off? Wait for others to speak up on your behalf? Should you report the bullying to HR?
More often than not, the bully doesn’t realize he or she is a bully. Call them out, but avoid retaliating in kind. Instead, talk to your manager or leverage other channels available to your organization. If no one reports the incident, then management will be unaware of the need to talk to the offender, Sulit says.
The victim must document the incident as objectively and completely as possible for reporting to HR, including when and where the incident took place, who were present. If you think someone was bullied, ask them if they felt bullied and make them understand that such behavior is not allowed. Always be fair, respectful and nonthreatening when confronting or talking to your colleagues, Sulit stresses.
If you want to personally call out the other person, do so in a neutral or safe space. Ask if it’s a good time to talk as they might not be feeling well or perhaps dealing with other work or personal problems; if they keep putting you off, try to set a meeting as the feedback needs to be timely—no one will appreciate being asked about issues that arose a week or a month ago. Aside from being timely, always make sure that you’re getting your message across in a respectful and nonthreatening manner, she recommends.
Dealing with criticism
If you receive criticism at work, just stay calm—step back, take a deep breath and, if you can, walk away. Give yourself the space and time to clear your mind and figure out a response. By not reacting impulsively, you avoid saying or doing things that you will end up regretting later. The approach also applies to emails—avoid reacting right away.
Take criticism seriously but not personally is Sulit’s second advice. You may have been told that you produced less than stellar work, but it doesn’t make you a bad person, she says. Train yourself to discern a personal opinion from a professional one.
On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean that the other person is “bad” just because they offered negative feedback. Listen with an open mind then evaluate what you have heard, Sulit explains the third rule.
Fourth, think of the feedback you have received as a gift, an opportunity to ask questions and to learn more or improve yourself. Ask your critic: How could I handle my projects more effectively? Who can I ask to help me? How could I do a better job of prioritizing my activities? How would you do it if you were in my place?
Fifth, and last, don’t dismiss the criticism outright. Learn from it even if it’s negative. If you do disagree with the assessment, ask the other party for specific examples that support their statement, then thank them for bringing it to your attention—this will help defuse the tension—while underscoring that you value the feedback. Refute the statement (“I have a different interpretation”) by respectfully presenting your own examples. Additionally, ask questions until you get to the bottom of the issue, Sulit states.
Ultimately, criticism can also be beneficial in that it promotes growth, helps you learn more about others, jolts you into action and lets you see things in a different light. It depends on you, as career leadership expert and author Vanessa Loder advises, to look for the “gift” in the feedback and make it work for you.
DESIGNED BY FREEPIK (WWW.FREEPIK.COM)
DESIGNED BY FREEPIK (WWW.FREEPIK.COM)