3 Ways to Handle Unfair Criticism

If you’ve worked a job long enough, chances are you know what it’s like to be falsely accused. After all, rumors, gossip, backstabbing = just another day in the workplace, right?

Yet, while we can all agree condemnation is never fun, not all may agree on how to overcome; still, as an advocate of reconciliation, I submit even on the darkest of days, there’s always a roadmap to resolve.

To get us there, here are three basic truths we can rely on when coping with unfair rebuke…

1. Don’t take it personally

Let’s be honest: when we receive unfair rebuke, it’s easy to lock into defense mode (i.e. shutting down, walling up, and basing every thought/action around hurt prevention). Sure, we may take the punches, turn the other cheek, heck, we may even get back up again…but at the end of the day, we’re often far too content remaining frozen in cynicism and analysis paralysis (i.e. over-thinking a situation towards indifference).

Perhaps you can relate to a colleague dishing out unnecessary criticism or a supervisor unwilling to hear your side of the story. Maybe you once wanted to rightfully confront an issue, but fearing job security, kept quiet in hope ‘this too shall pass’.

If so, then it’s important no matter what situation you’re in to not take it personally.

‘Cause while offense may feel good in the moment, truth is: it’s never the answer to reproach or resolution.

But Cam…all I want is to be heard and understood. What’s so wrong about that?

Technically, nothing; however, if offense is your default reaction whenever a finger is pointed at you, are you not doing unto the ‘offender’ what you don’t want them doing unto you?

Bottom line: Rather than stack shoulder chips, dare to defend against offense rather than with it. That way you deactivate pride and open the door for humility1 to enter, which as I’ll explain in my next point, makes taking offense a lot harder.

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2. Respond with class

As mentioned in point #1, when unwarranted criticism strikes, human nature often gravitates towards silence. For some of us, this can be a good thing initially (key word) as ‘quiet time’ allows us to process and collect our thoughts; however, at some point, it’s important we respond to critique rather than sweep it under the carpet pretending it didn’t happen.

Case and point: A few years back I had a supervisor who called me out in front of some colleagues before apologizing on my behalf without my consent. At first I was offended.  Not only did I have no idea what I’d done wrong, but also why my supervisor would jump the gun without discussing the matter with me one-on-one.

With the wind knocked out of me, I sank in discouragement…disguising hurt as focus. Yet, after realizing my processing was teetering on pouting, I decided if I didn’t want a repeat, I had to confront the issue head on in humility.

To do this, I first acknowledged what I could have done better to diffuse defensiveness and establish submission. Then, I addressed the misunderstandings in a way where context could be delivered and exchanged. Granted, I could have started the dialogue here and the conversation turn out okay; however, I knew if wanted to better learn where my boss was coming from, I had to lay down my walls first.

Thus, if you’re like me in the sense you crave context, always ensure it’s both deliverable and receivable when discussing difficult subject matter. That way you come across as understanding, not withstanding.

Bottom line: In the wake of reproach, keep your responses discernably demonstrative, not irrationally remonstrative.

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3. Follow through

As a basketball connoisseur, I’ve always been fascinated with jump shooting. I remember as a little kid riding my bike to the library each summer, picking up some VHS tutorials of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, and watching them over and over until I mastered that elegant, fluid release (i.e. ‘follow-through’; see definition/instruction/animation below).

How to follow-through (basketball)

  1. Your wrists should be floppy (relaxed).
  2. Fingers should be pointed at the target (rim).
  3. Finish high. You should see your fingers at the top square of the back board.
  4. Hold your follow through position until the ball hits the rim.

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What does this have to do with handling wrongful accusation, you say?

Well, in the same way the follow-through allows the hand to maintain motion and guides the ball’s trajectory closer to the basket, focusing on smaller wins2 (i.e. baby steps/progress points on your way to recovery/restoration; see examples below) can maintain confidence and guide selflessness after a bruising experience.

Remember who you are is loved and what you’re called to is love. So if you want to ‘peace’ yourself together, why not give yourself an outlet to express that? Yeah, I know it can be overwhelming at first to reach out, especially when you’re trying to mask pain, but as I’ve learned in recent years, when you invest in those small wins, it’s amazing what can result.

Bottom line: If you’re unjustly critiqued, don’t stay low, finish highand follow-through.

Footnotes

  1. Humility = the pathway to ‘nowhere but up’
  2. ‘Small win’ examples = initiating conversation with colleague, seeking advice from mentor, reading the Word/referencing God, praying, taking ungodly thoughts captive, random acts of kindness, re-focusing energy and attention away from pain, etc.)

Cover image creds: Psychology Today (edited by Cameron Fry)

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