It’s not easy to take criticism, especially when it’s about your job performance. Perhaps you’ve put a lot of effort into making your superiors happy, only to fall short of expectations; or maybe you’re in a position that has consequence for millions, beholden not only to people in your immediate sphere, but others who depend on your decisions for their own material survival and benefit.
Former congressman and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel falls into the latter camp. With a divisive career in public service, marred by the alleged suppression of evidence regarding a brutal killing of a Black teenager by the Chicago P.D. in 2014, Emanuel manages to straddle the partisan divide as someone reviled by many liberals and conservatives alike. News that Emanuel could return to the White House as part of the incoming Joe Biden administration has sparked the ire of many politicians and wonks on the left (Emanuel was Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff between 2008 and 2010).
Emanuel’s so far been mum on the wave of renewed criticism, as prominent figures such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez insist that he belongs nowhere near the White House. No matter where the Chicagoan winds up, there’s many ways to respond to this kind of work-related criticism, regardless of whether you’re an entrenched political insider, a service industry worker, or just starting out in your professional career.
Getting criticized by your boss or colleagues isn’t easy to take. It’s important to understand that a targeted critique of the way you handle a specific job function isn’t often an indictment of your character as a person. You are an individual, separate from your job, just like everyone else. Constructive criticism of the way you input data or wait tables doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent, or that your colleagues don’t like you.
If you get a negative performance review, it’s important to ask questions about why you’ve fallen short. It’ll show that you want to glean a better understanding of why you’re not meeting expectations—which is a key point to internalize before putting together an actionable plan for improvement.
If your performance appraisal was rated poorly, get specific clarification on what and how you can improve. What are your weaknesses? What are the deliverables you’re responsible for, and when are the deadlines? What are your boss’s expectations of you in this position? You want to be rated exceptional next year, so find out what it takes to get there.
Your supervisors want you to be curious, because it shows that you care. If your questions are targeted and specific enough—feel free to ask “what specifically can I do better?,” or “how can I improve in this specific area?”—it’ll actually help you put together a concrete idea of how to move forward in the right direction.
Writing down pointers with a pen or pencil is going to help you better retain the information vital to your job. It’s also going to show your boss that improvement matters to you, which can only endear you to them further. Writing these notes down will help you visualize how you can improve, better than any vague idea will. Plus, it will tee up your plan of attack.
This requires the understanding that nothing improves overnight. To make any noticeable progress, it’s important to lay out a system for righting the ship. Keep specific goals in mind while you’re delineating this, as the career site Idealist explains:
Though your boss should make their expectations clear, most of the work will be on your end. Set goals for yourself based on your own assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. For example, do you need to give yourself more time to accomplish tasks? Or do you need to take more time to make sure you fully understand a set of guidelines you are given?
Having a concrete yardstick for judging your own performance will help you keep track of your improvement, and provide further incentive to keep chugging along.
All bosses are not created equal. It’s possible that your superiors aren’t treating you fairly, which is why it’s important to speak up if you feel this is the case. Maybe consult a colleague for their opinion or advice if you have a difficult time communicating with your manager. This also applies to asking targeted questions: If you’re having trouble understanding what your manager wants, make sure you ask exactly what they want in the simplest possible terms.
While much of this might only apply to people with considerably less power and clout than a high-profile political operative like Rahm Emanuel, a lot of it is universal across the board.