The way you respond to critics matters more than what they actually say about you. That’s because your reaction reveals whether you’re a strong leader who can brush off minor attacks—or a less resilient, compulsive people-pleaser who takes any negative remark as a severe blow to the ego.
The next time you’re criticized by a peer or staffer, bounce back using these techniques:
Apply the “lesson” test. Whenever someone complains about your style or decision making, ask yourself, “What positive lesson can I learn from this?” Dig for a nugget of wisdom. Don’t magnify the comment to the point where you lose perspective or get too hurt to analyze it fairly.
Translate abusive words. “I find it helps to write down some flip comment that someone makes about me using neutral words,” says a general manager of a shopping mall. “Then I figure out if there’s something I can do to address it. I heard that an outgoing supervisor called me ‘a real SOB drill sergeant,’ which I translated into ‘a demanding taskmaster.’ It didn’t seem so bad after that.”
Maintain composure. Savvy leaders know that some people try to knock down whoever’s on top. When pelted by stinging criticisms, these mature executives do not instinctively defend themselves or overreact. They may feel angry inside, but they keep cool and present a smooth, unflappable exterior for all to see. Never forget that you can ignore a nasty comment. Greet it with stony silence, and you can embarrass a foolish speaker. But if you fight back, you might debase yourself and lose credibility.