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The professional benefits of developing a thick skin

No one likes to be criticized, whether it’s deserved or not. But accepting — even embracing — constructive feedback is one of the best career skills a professional can have.

 Even when suggestions for improvement are offered in a positive way, however, many employees find it hard not to take them personally. Of course, this is only natural; even the intimation of poor performance can threaten job security in the minds of many people.

 Like it or not, however, occasional criticism — both the good and the bad kind — comes with the job. And how you respond to critiques can either boost or detract from your professional stature and may even affect your advancement potential.

 With this in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts on receiving feedback:

 Do understand and accept it

If your manager has suggestions on how you can improve in some area — how to better execute a client engagement or make more persuasive presentations, for example — be sure you understand what you’re being told. What exactly are you not doing as well as you could be?

 If necessary, ask questions to clarify your boss’s point of view. You might say, for instance, “Can you tell me more about what my presentation was lacking that would have made it better?” Ask for supporting details in a sincere and non-confrontational way. Your goal should be to gather the best information you can so you understand how to apply it to your work.

 Of course, not all feedback will be focused on shortcomings. Praise from your boss on a job well done can be equally insightful. Just as you would with constructive criticism, be receptive to the compliment and avoid the tendency to downplay your contributions. Then, use the information you’ve received to build on what you’re already doing well.

 Don’t ignore the feedback

Managers want to see that you’re channelling their feedback into your performance. The worst thing you can do when your boss offers constructive criticism is to fail to act on it. This suggests that you either don’t care about how your performance is perceived or are simply unwilling to accept input.

 Ideally, it should be evident how you’ve incorporated your boss’ suggestions. It’s a good idea though to follow up with your supervisor a few weeks later to discuss what you’ve tried to do differently and assess together how well your efforts are working. This demonstrates that you’re not only willing to receive feedback but you also truly want to use it in a constructive way.

 Don’t argue or make excuses

Almost as bad as ignoring your manager’s suggestions is countering them with a fusillade of excuses — “Well, that situation wasn’t entirely my fault,” or “This is how I’ve always done it in the past, and no one else has had a problem with it.”

 Similarly, some people may respond to constructive criticism with defensive, or even dismissive, comments such as, “Well, if that’s how you see it.” Even if you’re not pleased with your supervisor’s assessment — perhaps you even disagree with it — avoid engaging in a debate. It’s unlikely to be productive and will probably only serve to make you look bad.

 If a factual mistake has been made, be respectful in clarifying the issue while still expressing a receptiveness to hear what could be done in a different or better way.

 Do watch your verbal and nonverbal language

When you’re receiving constructive criticism, be sure you’re not sending verbal or body language cues that suggest you disagree with or even resent what you’re hearing. For example, slouching in your chair with your legs stretched outward and arms crossed. The message being sent by the casual posture? “I’m not really taking this feedback seriously.” Even if you disagree with what you’re told, it’s critical that you control the impulse to react in any way but attentively and professionally.

 It’s not easy to develop a thick skin. But being overly sensitive to criticism on the job can only hurt, not help, you. By knowing how to accept and use your supervisor’s advice and encouragement, you demonstrate that you are receptive to taking direction and capable of using the feedback you receive as a tool for further improvement. If you were the boss, isn’t that the kind of employee you’d want?

 By Robert Half International

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.

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