Feedback: How to Handle False Criticism at Work
Not all feedback is good feedback. Sometimes the criticisms we receive are unsubstantiated and false. While no criticism is enjoyable, the most difficult criticism to take is false criticism.
The worst false criticism I’ve had was being told that I did not take criticism well. When I saw those words in black and white on my employee evaluation I was shocked. I’ve written articles about constructive criticism! Not to mention that the person who wrote this had never once offered me any criticism at all. I couldn’t believe it. Me? I don’t take criticism well? I love criticism! I ask for criticism! I’m constantly seeking to improve my skills and gain valuable feedback!
My mind reeled over the criticism. Why would they say something like that? How could I possibly respond?
If I even attempted to deny the claim that I did not take criticism well then I would in fact not be taking criticism well and that would only prove their point. Even if I tried to defend or even question the criticism, it would look like I wasn’t taking the criticism well. There was no possible way to deny, defend or question it. Yet there it was, completely false and unsubstantiated.
Times like this call for a step back in self reflection. I needed to ask myself if there was any possible way that there was even a smidgen of truth to the claim. Replaying every conversation I could recall with this person I examined their words and my responses. I came to the conclusion that the words were in fact false. This co-worker was asked to provide feedback on me and I believe his words were what he thought to be true, even though they were not based on any real interaction or circumstance.
Another Example of False Criticism
I work with an individual who was perceived as being disrespectful, yet in his heart, he genuinely respects others and wants to learn from them. The best way for him to handle this false criticism is to find out what he is doing or saying that is causing others to see disrespect from him. Is there a certain word that he's using? Is it his mannerisms? Does he give off an air of arrogance or pride? Asking for honest feedback from close friends and coworkers may uncover the base of the misconception.
The question then remained, how can I possibly respond?
Any time we are faced with inaccurate criticism our first response is naturally to defend ourselves or deny it. Yet becoming defensive can often appear as if we are making excuses or blaming someone else. It really doesn’t matter what the criticism is, the more we defend ourselves or deny its possibility, the less credible we seem. Instead of focusing on the false criticism, perhaps it would be wise to focus on the perception of the false criticism.
Why would he think that I didn’t take criticism well? What was it I’ve done or said that may have led him to that conclusion? While I cannot undo the past, I can keep a close watch on my actions in the present. If his perception of me was that I would defend or deny negative feedback, then I needed to take steps towards improving that perception.
My situation is just an example of false criticism. The feedback can come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t matter what the false criticism is, what matters is that someone perceived that feedback to be accurate. Isn’t there a saying about someone else’s perception being their reality? What matters when you are given false criticism is how your respond.
Responding to false criticism really should look the same as responding to accurate criticism. After all, the one giving the criticism will usually believe it to be true. Defending or denying it will only cause problems.
How you can respond to false criticsm
- Keep your body language calm. Look them in the eye. Think before you speak. Smile. Say something like, “thank you for the feedback, I’ll look into that.” Or, “I’ll try to work on that.”
- Take a step back and spend some time in self reflection. Is there any truth to the claim? If not, why would they perceive it to be true? This can be a good time to work on your self-awareness skills. If what is in your heart is not being projected toward others, then you need to find out why.
- Carry on with your work yet be mindful of the perceptions of others. False criticism will usually find itself out. If you can develop a keen awareness of how others perceive you, you can improve their impressions and help them see the truth. This is done with actions, not words.
If you would like more information about constructive criticism, or how to stop blaming others or making excuses when receiving criticism, be sure to read my other hubs on the subject such as: Feedback: Stop Making Excuses or Blaming others when Receiving Criticism and The Art of Constructive Criticism: How to Give and Receive Feedback.
What about you? Is there a time that you have been falsely criticized? How did you respond? Were you able to overcome the perception? Is so, how? I would love to read your responses in the comment section below.
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