how can I become more self-aware and not be a jerk at work?

In response to the letter earlier this week from someone who had behaved badly at work and seemed to be avoiding responsibility, a reader asked this:

What advice do you have from preventing this kind of personality from developing in the first place? I’m a year out from college (2019 grad) and have been working for six years, but I recognize that I’m still young professionally and age-wise. I see the tendency inside myself to bristle at criticism and deflect blame, and though I’m able to manage it outwardly/in communication with my coworkers and superiors, I want to be proactive in managing those instincts. Basically, I guess I’m asking how to stay self-aware and not become an office jerk :)

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. Littorally*

    So, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself (IMO) is to work on holding back your reactions until you’ve had time to think about what’s been said. Even if you feel like it’s unfair, even if the criticism you’re getting seems wildly unreasonable, you lose nothing by keeping your reaction level and flat until the end of the discussion. Listen to what’s being said, find an appropriate “I hear you and I’d like to think about this” sort of script, then go away until your emotions have had time to settle. Then engage in a deep session of reflection upon the criticism and upon yourself. Does it match your experiences? Is it reasonable based on the information you’ve had to work with? Is it coming from someone who has the position, experience, and field of view to see more than you do? If yes, then you can dissect the criticism and incorporate it at your leisure. If no, then taking the time to give it deep thought makes you look much more reasonable when you go back to the critique-giver to say “Hey, I’ve thought about what you said, and I’d like to clarify some things.”

    1. South American Rodeo Queen*

      100% agree with this advice. Listen first, respond later, and understand the value of someone else’s experience and perspective. How you perceive yourself is often not how other perceive you, either negatively or positively.

    2. Mockingjay*

      I’ve learned to use a 24-hour wait rule before responding.

      I’ve always struggled with a quick temper which means emotion gets in the way of an objective response. So after a phone call, a meeting, or an email which sets me off, I take a deep breath and wait until the next day (or at least a few hours) before responding. A little distance is very calming.

      I had one manager who framed my struggle beautifully: “You’re very passionate about your job and you want this project to succeed at the highest levels, and that’s great. But keep in mind that the first response to a problem isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes we need time to absorb all the parameters of a situation and to listen to the perspectives of your teammates before moving forward.”

      1. Jane Plough*

        This framing is really helpful for a situation I’m facing with an employee at the moment – thank you!

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Oh man, I could have used this advice at OldExjob. The only way I could keep myself in check in the face of a wave of stupid was to stop caring, which of course was not an optimal response even though I still did my work. Bookmarking foreeeeeeevah.

      3. LGC*

        Yeah – I got myself in trouble a lot when I immediately came back with what I thought were amazingly witty, yet professional clapbacks in emails to my then-coworker. (You will not at all be surprised to hear that the clapbacks were neither amazingly witty nor professional, in retrospect.) I got the same feedback and it did wonders because I would open Outlook the next morning and realize that actually, sending out “As per my last email, I believe we have established your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” is actually not the smartest idea and definitely not a way to get ahead at work.

        1. MlleJennyfair*

          LGC, I’ve deleted similar versions of that draft email, but yours was hilarious. Thanks for the belly laugh!

    3. Abogado Avocado*

      This is good advice!

      When I was new to the workforce, I really struggled with dealing with constructive criticism. Thankfully (I say now), one of my first bosses pointed out that I responded to criticism by saying, “But. . .,” which I now know was totally defensive. It was difficult to get to the point where I could listen to criticism calmly (as recommended above) because the urge to defend myself was so strong! So, as a bridge to getting to that place, I learned to incorporate a strategy from improv, which is to begin with, “Yes, and. . .” Even if all you say is, “Yes, and I hear you and I’d like to think about this,” the boss hears, “This person is responding positively. Whew!” And, you, meanwhile, are getting breathing room to think about how you wish to proceed.

      I’ve also learned that responding immediately is rarely necessary — unless you’re a courtroom lawyer or you’re the guy with the launch codes who learns a nuclear strike is headed your way. Apart from that, there is very little in life that doesn’t benefit from thinking time.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        “Yes, and” is my go-to for conflict at the moment. It helps me frame the conversation in terms of assuming good faith and cooperation (both in the past and in future) which tends to be more likely than the alternative!

    4. OrigCassandra*

      I have a filthy temper.

      Delay is my chief weapon against it — the more so because it doesn’t take a lot of cognitive effort to deploy.

      Delay, delay, delay. Delay is your friend.

    5. Mel_05*

      Yes, I’ve so often been upset by something in the moment, but in reflection, there was no reason to be. It’s really good to list react calmly and then consider it.

    6. Free Meerkats*

      Came to say this: my motto until I was able to internalize this was, “Respond, not react.” I didn’t always manage to do it, it’s something that takes work and effort.

      1. EH*

        YESSSSSSS! Our immediate, knee-jerk reactions to things can be so unhelpful. They’re often rooted in old traumas/patterns, ego, fear, etc. We have to give our higher cognitive functions a minute to get back online so we can think things through in a clear-headed way.

    7. HelloHello*

      Exactly this. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is how to say “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you” instead of struggling to make up an answer when I feel out of my depth. This is basically the emotional version of that. For situations where things are emotionally fraught our you’re out of your depth, it’s better to give something time and thought than to respond immediately when there’s a big risk of getting it wrong.

    8. Kes*

      Agreed on this. Taking a step back (mentally) and taking a moment can give you the space to consider more dispassionately what people have said as well as your own reaction and consider what parts may be valid, what may not be, what might be triggering certain reactions from you, etc. Think about it this way as well: what use can you get from this feedback? Oftentimes even for feedback that isn’t totally valid it can still provide useful information, and sometimes feedback is valid and we can be holding ourselves back if we aren’t willing to hear and get the full benefit of it.

      I highly recommend the book Thanks For the Feedback. It deals with exactly this – what gets in the way of us receiving feedback and what we can do to improve our ability to receive feedback

    9. TootsNYC*

      My therapist gave me a piece of paper to hang on the wall with part of this quote (he snipped it after “power” for space),

      Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
      —Viktor E. Frankl

    10. The Rural Juror*

      That was the first thing that came to my mind, too.

      I had a teacher who always used to say, “You can think whatever you want, but you can’t say everything you think.” She always emphasized the point of having whatever feelings you’re going to have, but not reacting to quickly, which is pretty damn good advice.

    11. juliebulie*

      Yes. You’re still in learning mode, you learn more by listening than by talking. Don’t say anything until you’ve thought about what you’ve heard.

    12. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Very much this.

      Early in my career I was a bitter, angry, confrontational woman because I’d just been made permanently disabled in an accident and by golly I was going to make the world suffer as I had. However I didn’t have the skills to know that I really should not bring that into work. It was my boss at the time who suggested therapy and also that I go ‘get some fresh air’ when I felt like snapping at someone.

      Those few minutes of getting out the office, taking the lift down a floor, sitting on the wall outside the front door made a huge difference. I did get therapy too which gave me other, better, coping methods.

      (To any of my former coworkers from that time? I really was an absolute knobhead.)

    13. Fikly*

      200% agree.

      Don’t respond. Don’t debate. Take the time, a lot of time, to think about and process, and get past that initial reaction. As you get more practice, it will take less time.

      Think of your first reaction like a rough draft. There’s a reason the standard advice is to at least sleep on it before you edit and do another draft. People need the distance.

    14. Djuna*

      Yes! And over time you will be like, “Huh, my hackles went up, why was that?” automatically while being able to present that calm face and not react.
      To me, hackles going up means there’s some truth to what’s being said, and that I’d rather not look at it. But it’s important to look (and continue listening), then pinpoint the thing and address it with humility and grace (and good humor, if you can muster it).

      1. T2*

        I have worked with and for some very difficult people. The key is, remembering you don’t have to go home with them.

        Emotional issues and work don’t mix. They affect your judgement. As others said, you need time to determine your response.

        Another thing is that if you are wrong, stand up and admit it. Don’t spend capital on a bad hand. It is almost always better to live to fight another day.

    15. Woodsy*

      Yes “holding back” though I’d look at it a little differently. I was LE for 40 years and quickly learned that it is way, way, way harder to deescalate a situation once a situation has escalated to some form of pissing match.
      First off is learn techniques to calm, still your mind as something is unfolding. Slow, deep breathing helps — nothing obvious, but it’s a helpful in-the-moment exercise to remain calm. Learn to bring a stillness to your whole body as you do that. You’re still listening and engaged, but you’re letting the emotions (and stupidity!) of the other person wash over you.

      Delay your reply. Use a facial (tilted head, nodding, pursed lips, whatever — DON’T roll your eyes etc.) or hand expression to show you’re thinking about it and coming up with a reply. It’s just a delaying tactic so, with the breathing, you don’t trash the other person before coming up with a coherent and thoughtful/polite reply. Look for ways to slow down your reaction. Make time work for you.

      In an LE situation (assuming it’s not an immediate threat to me or others) I also try to look for some level of empathy with the other person: why are they upset? Scared? Confused? Bad day? Sometimes it doesn’t matter, of course, they’re just an unpleasant rude a$$hole, but if you can find a common humanity, that really helps.

      Work on your voice. Pitch it moderately low and talk slowly and calmly (not condescending or patronizing!). Pay attention to how people react to you and how you say things. What works, what doesn’t work.

      This probably doesn’t work in a workplace environment but I’ve occasionally asked the person to help me out and just take three slow deep breaths and to do it with me. I once cajoled a truly pissed off guy by just saying “c’mon, play my game for a minute here.” It worked. Not that we were going to be best buddies but, in an escalating situation, he complied with what I wanted him to do. There’s probably similar stuff that could work in the workplace.

      Develop phrases to start off that have less chance of being confrontational. “I understand that but…” or “wondering if…”. This doesn’t mean you’re going to roll over it’s just a way, once again, of slowing down, thinking about your response, and framing it to make your point politely. Whatever’s going on, you have to show you’re listening and respect the other person’s opinion.

      This stuff takes a long time to learn (arguably, an entire career) but I think a person can retrain themselves for the basics in a few months. I had the good fortune of, my first year, being paired with a guy who could take the quietest most stoned-out hippie and turn him into a yelling ‘off the pigs’ maniac in just minutes. There had to be a better way, thought I… . In all immodesty, I had a pretty good reputation for remaining calm and that really goes a long way to gaining the respect of both your colleagues and, in my case, the public.

  2. Amber Rose*

    Asking the question is a good sign you’re already self aware, honestly. Aside from that, it’s important to practice reframing criticism or blame in your head as a positive rather than a negative. If you think, “I’m being told this because this person wants me to improve and be awesome and I can learn a lot from this,” it feels a lot less miserable than “oh no I messed this up, run away/deflect/cower.”

    Think of it like this. People who have no faith in your abilities whatsoever won’t even try to correct you, right? How many AAM letters do we get from people where they just work around a useless person because they’ve given up trying to help them?

    This is how I managed not to cry after our CEO called me and pointed out I messed up an email I sent to the whole company, causing mass confusion. D:

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yesssss. Take feedback as opportunities for improvement, not verification of suckitude.

    2. Retail not Retail*

      I cashed a bad six hundred dollar check and got corrected. The trouble came the next week when I used an override on another check. “I said no more overrides!” Crap crap crap oh! It was this one girl whose ID has a dimple making it unscannable.

      I’ve come back from so many mistakes.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I worked at a deli once, and forgot to take a bunch of food out of the blast freezer before I closed, basically rendering it all useless. I woke up in the middle of the night realizing it, and when I saw my boss the next day I was just like, “I know what I did, I’m so sorry, I’ll make post it notes on my own face so I don’t ever do it again,” and she just kinda looked a bit surprised and said “as long as you know and won’t do it again.”

        I’ve worked with a lot of people who won’t own up to their mistakes or get defensive, but my experience has always been that an apology combined with a plan to not repeat the failure is just easier. I feel less bad when I apologize, my boss feels less angry when I have a plan, and we move forward feeling OK.

        1. LaSalleUGirl*

          “I’ll make post it notes on my own face so I don’t ever do it again” cracked me up. That is very me.

    3. pancakes*

      I’ve definitely tried to correct people on things despite not having much or even any faith in their abilities. Faith is beside the point to me on this — even just the possibility that someone passing by might get something from seeing a bad idea or bad frame of mind pushed back on is enough to justify pushing back, I think.

      My question for the letter writer would be more along the lines of, do you respect people who you see trying to deflect blame? Not really, hence the letter. Good! Not wanting to be that person who doubles down on foolishness is a big step in the right direction. Identifying people who don’t do that, who instead handle their own missteps gracefully and purposefully, and observing how they do it is another.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Sure. But the point isn’t to care about what’s actually happening in other people’s heads, it’s to reframe it for yourself in that moment so you don’t overreact.

      2. Djuna*

        Yes – and weirdly, people often trust and respect the person who holds their hands up and gracefully admits a mistake more than they do the person who has never made a mistake. Mistake humanize us, they’re relatable, and good handling of a mistake is a testament to character.

        I often tell people not to be afraid to make a mistake, but to try their hardest not to make the same mistake repeatedly. Ties into the whole thing about it being better never having to apologize for words spoken in haste or anger (because you don’t say the words and so do not need to apologize). You can only own your own behavior, and people can see when someone weaponizes it (either deflecting blame, not hearing feedback, or taking a bad day out on everyone around them). This is the stuff that people remember, especially when it comes to internal hiring conversations.

    4. Quinalla*

      This helps when taking and when (in my case hesitating) to give criticism/critical feedback. Remember that feedback, especially critical feedback honesty, is there to help the person improve. If the person didn’t care or didn’t think you could do better, they would not say anything most likely, but someone cares enough to give feedback. Take it with that in mind!

      And for those that need to give feedback, don’t hesitate as if you care about that person, you will give the feedback!

  3. LKW*

    Waaay back when I was in grad school I took a class on Group Dynamics. My group created a maturity model based on several existing models. In that we defined four stages of maturity in the work place. I can’t recall all of the specifics but it was essentially:

    1. Reacts negatively to any criticism. Shouting, negative behaviors, etc. Keeps grudges and doesn’t work well with anyone who provided feedback.
    2. Reacts immediately to criticism but then calms down. Doesn’t necessarily address the issues
    3. Reacts to criticism, sometimes negatively. Apologizes for any outbursts/ bad behavior and works to address issues or discusses options and decisions.
    4. Listens to criticism, asks meaningful questions and then determines path forward to address issues. Discusses options and decisions.

  4. JokeyJules*

    something that took me longer than i’d like to admit to come to full grips with is that not everything needs to be someones fault. If an error was made, it was made. if you were working on a project closely and someone messed up and you didn’t notice the error, you should have and will need to do better at catching mistakes in the future. it’s not about who takes the most blame, it’s about fixing it moving forward (unless of course there are extenuating circumstances but we all went along on that roller coaster ride of the accountant accidentally months behind and it turned out ok).
    Being the person who is always “but it was THEM! THEY did it! not ME!!!” and throwing others under the bus for small issues you had some fault in will isolate you. and is also just not a good personality trait to have in general.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      This took me a long time to learn as well. At work sometimes it doesn’t matter who is to blame just that it gets fixed and we move forward.
      It’s my supervisors job to worry about who or what caused a problem, it’s my job to make sure I’m not causing it with something I can control (because if the problem is actually something like inadequate staffing for me to take a sick day that’s not my problem).

    2. Anon Anon*

      In the same instance, I think many people are also too prone to take the blame or responsibility for a mistake themselves. Mistakes happen, it’s a fact of life. Sometimes finding out where the mistake was made in the process and the reasons for how the mistake got uncaught means that the entire process can be improved or addressed. If someone take the blame for something that they were not exclusively at fault for, then it means that the error is like to occur again because the cause of the mistake didn’t get corrected and addressed the first time.

    3. Aquawoman*

      So much this. As a manager, if there’s a problem, I want a solution. If someone causes a problem and solves it, I will appreciate it (assuming they don’t repeatedly cause the same problem rather than learn from it). If they cause a problem and spend more time explaining why it wasn’t their fault than fixing it, that just makes them untrustworthy.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep. I had to learn this – it’s OK to make mistakes; it’s even better if you can fix it – or at least have possible solutions. I’ve screwed up in plenty of big and small ways but most of the time I knew how to fix it — and if I didn’t, I could say “oops, I think I did this wrong, can you show me how to do it right?”

        In general, trying to mitigate the knee-jerk defensive response will help a lot – instead try to see it as a learning opportunity. (It’s funny, I’m pretty good at this at work by now, but I still feel defensive quickly in my personal life sometimes!)

      2. Venus*

        I agree with this, to a point. I worked for a “Bring me solutions, not problems” person and I learned over time that the solution can also be “Boss: Do you know an expert on this topic that can help me?” Not every problem has an obvious solution, and it’s okay to acknowledge that too.

        Totally agreed that blaming others for the problem should be avoided. There are times where it can be someone else’s fault, and Alison has great language for “I can’t do my job because of X, can you address it by doing Y?” which is taking away the blame language and in a way offering a solution.

        1. JustaTech*

          There’s also that it can be easy to blame someone for doing something wrong (when they did) but that doesn’t actually get to the root of the problem. If it’s a system that people use all the time, and yet still gets messed up frequently, the better question is: how can we fix this process/system/device so that it is easier to do right and harder to do incorrectly?

          Sure, Bob should always remember to start the timer, but we’ve stuck the timer behind the door and it’s easy to miss. Why not move the timer to where it’s in plain sight?

          It’s a much more productive, and frankly more interesting way of dealing with problems than just blaming people.

    4. Dan*

      I think one reason junior level people get defensive is they think someone has to be blamed for stuff, and they don’t want it to be them. What I’ve found is that at the lower levels of work where “blame” *could* be assigned, any particular error is too inconsequential to matter.

      However, when big things go wrong, people will look for blood. This is why I will build consensus among a team or superiors before moving forward with more critical decisions. That way, if something is likely to go wrong, more experienced people can tell me to watch out. If things go wrong anyway, enough people had buy in such that those who would point the fingers, have to point the fingers back at themselves too.

      And as people get more experience, sometimes undesirable outcomes occur, and mature people understand that and role with it. If your project had an 80% chance of succeeding and it failed, sometimes that 20% kicks in through nobody’s fault.

    5. T2*

      I want to post here because I like what you said.

      I am very good at my job. It is very unusual to find someone more knowledgeable about my line of work than me.

      But 15 years ago I was the IT director of a large private Equity investment firm. I was good at it. But one day I discovered that the guy I assigned to do the backup role wasn’t actually doing his job.

      I found this out when we had a multi server failure. I spent over 120 hours in the next week putting this company back together. Got two or three miracles in the process.

      Two days later, after I fixed everything, The company met with me and complimented me on getting everything back. The CEO said that in his experience maybe 1 or 2 other people could have pulled that off. He completed me on my hard work. And then immediately fired me.

      Why? Because the backups were not done, and it was my team. I was the captain and my ship went down. Backups and the guy doing them was my responsibility. It wasn’t fair. But frankly life isn’t. Sometimes you are the hunter, and sometimes you are the prey. That was my day to be prey.

      I put my heart and soul into that job. But
      Ultimately he was correct. I learned the lesson and never repeated the mistake.

      Every personal situation is an opportunity to learn if you are willing to listen.

      1. Jackalope*

        I disagree a bit that he was correct in firing you. I understand what you’re saying about being the captain and having responsibility for your team, but after the amount of work you put into fixing the mistakes made by someone else (and yes, I understand that it was someone you oversaw and so you had a stake in the failure too) and getting things back online, firing you was a jerk move.

        1. T2*

          It was a lesson I have learned from. And it is very common in my industry. I myself have fired people for such things. He was a fair fellow, but a hard and uncompromising man overall. Frankly, I was way too cocky. And too trusting.

          I have never allowed such an issue to ever occur again. No one ever out documents me. I now specifically work with my number 1 tech as my XO. He checks me and I check him. Between the two of us we develop the skills of the team, although I focus on design and strategy. I don’t trust anyone to get the job done my themselves, including myself. We as a team don’t get caught with our pants down.

          I know it seems harsh. But we play with live ammo here. If my team doesn’t do their job, thousands of people are potentially out of work.

          So. All in all, it was a setback. And it was worth it. We have been very successful and I would never have accepted someone questioning my ideas without having gone through it.

          1. Tim*

            While I can see your point, I struggle with why it would stop with you. If you were held responsible for the mistake of your team, was your boss held responsible for yours?

        2. Avasarala*

          Honestly I disagree. T2’s job wasn’t to fix mistakes, it’s to ensure that their team does their jobs as well. Their job as director is to check the performance of their team. If they hadn’t had those miracles everything could have been lost. They succeeded as an IT person but failed as a manager. Now they’re even better because they’ve learned from that mistake.

  5. Actuarial Octagon*

    One thing that helped me stop the instinctive deflection was to remember that criticism or input at work is not personal and not a reflection on your personality or worth as a person. A lot of my self image when I was younger was tied to being especially smart and capable, so it took real work to separate the work from my self image.

    1. KittenKitten*

      That’s a tough one to learn and I wish I’d learned it much earlier than I did. It took getting fired to realize that identifying myself almost completely by what I do (I was a disc jockey at the time) was only going to bring misery.

      1. Confused*

        Truer words have never been spoken. I wasn’t fired, but after three miserable years in my “dream” industry, I was so burnt out that I hated it.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Know thyself for sure! I feel the need to prove myself to others so when I receive criticism, I take it pretty hard. I have gotten good at being receptive to feedback and making changes, but I still struggle with it feeling like a personal attack. I know it’s a self-esteem issue from when I was a kid so it helps to recognize that and not play into the pattern.

    3. MA marketing assistant*

      I was going to say exactly this. The critique is about the WORK, it’s not about YOU. These are two very different things.

      It’s all very well and good to take ownership of a work product in terms of seeing it to completion in a good manner, but you are not your work.

      Boss doesn’t like the work? Okay, cool, I’ll fix it, no problem!

      Maybe it helps that I work in an industry that’s decidedly unsexy and while I’m treated decently by company, none of us would call this our life’s passion – even, I’m sure, many of the execs. So we’re all just there for the paycheck. But I think, especially in the States, we place so much importance on work-as-identity that it can be difficult to separate the two.

    4. londonedit*

      Same here. I think it’s particularly difficult when you’re making the transition from education into the workplace, because when you’re at school and university your whole life is about trying to get the best possible grades, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing you’re a ‘failure’ if you don’t. Whereas at work, all anyone cares about is that you do your job on time and to whatever standard is required, you work well with the people you’re required to work with, and you’re generally a decent and reliable person to have around. So it can be hard to let go of that ‘I must do everything perfectly at all times and anything else is failure’ mindset, and get used to the fact that at work it’s very normal for your boss to say ‘Hmm, these numbers look wrong – can you double-check?’ or ‘Hey, we need to move a bit faster on this project – please make sure you have this done by the end of tomorrow’. That’s not a failure and it’s not personal, that’s part of working life.

    5. A Simple Narwhal*

      This 100%! I came here to say something similar – this was absolutely me until only a couple years ago, and my health and happiness have improved infinitely since I’ve been able to separate who I am from what I do.

      It’s so much easier to not get upset by things at work when it’s not tied to your self worth. If someone doesn’t take your suggestion or agree with you on something, that’s not a reflection of you or your abilities, it’s just the decision that got made – nothing more, nothing less. Criticism no longer feels like a personal attack, so it never feels like there is blame to be deflected, it’s just business that needs to be addressed.

      The work = me feeling was pretty deeply ingrained in me, so it took working in therapy to help me distinguish myself from my work, so if anyone sees themselves in this I recommend therapy if you can.

    6. Cedrus Libani*

      Me too.

      When I was in my 20s, I went to a therapist. Every time things went sideways at work I fell into a deep, dark hole, and it was a problem. Honestly, I only went because my doctor made me; all I’d intended to do was demonstrate that I was not a danger to myself and could therefore safely go on antidepressants. But it took the guy only a few minutes to call me out. “You seem to have coping skills, but you don’t use them when things go poorly at work. Why not?”

      I blurted out the truth. “But that’s different. If I can’t perform at work, I really am worthless.” Then I realized what I’d said. Crap. I need to fix that, don’t I? So I did. It wasn’t quite that easy, but I did fix it, and now I no longer have issues with depression.

    7. BRR*

      I was going to say exactly this. At my last job I had a coworker who took everything incredibly personally. Forget
      anything that could even be considered criticism, you couldn’t even ask a question like “are these numbers from A or B?” without them getting defensive.

      For not getting defensive for professional criticisms, I think of it as a way to improve. A lot of stuff really isn’t that big of a deal, so it’s ok that those things happened and you don’t have to be defensive or deflect blame. Plus a lot of times things will be subjective and it’s not “you did this wrong,” but “this is my opinion on how this should be done.”

    8. The New Wanderer*

      I still struggle with this internally, but I learned a valuable lesson in the first year of my first career-related job out of college. I reacted poorly to a critique from my manager (some scowling and shutting down behaviors borne of “but I always get an A!” attitude) and got called out on it by my supervisor (different person who observed this happening) later. When I recovered from my embarrassment a few hours later, I was able to go talk to my manager, apologize for my childish reaction, and move on.

      Today (two decades later) I can pretty easily handle criticism professionally in the moment by absorbing it, keeping a pleasant look on my face, and responding diplomatically with whatever placeholder thing works best – provide additional context to clarify if I wasn’t understood or say “good point, I’ll look into it,” to signal the criticism is heard and understood and will be addressed as needed. I don’t rush to respond, I pace myself. Heck, if it’s a telecon/phone based conversation, I’ll deliberately smile when I’m responding because of research to suggest that it’s much harder to sound angry if you’re smiling (regardless of how you actually feel).

      Doesn’t mean I don’t still rage a little internally if I feel it was unfair or it felt personal or whatever. But I don’t indulge any of that until outside of work and sometimes the sting is gone by then anyway.

    9. Actual Vampire*

      Yes. Also, separate your work product from yourself. The product usually does not belong to you; it belongs to the company and/or client. When you’re at work, you be a good Teapot Designer by designing the teapot the boss/client wants. Learn to love serving the client, and save your misunderstood genius ideas for your own time.

  6. Cordoba*

    I find it very helpful to remind myself that the chances are very very low that I’m 100% right about everything I think I know.

    That is, I’m almost certainly wrong about *something* (or several somethings) but I don’t know what those things are. If I did, I’d fix my thinking about them.

    If somebody uses appropriate professional criticism to make me aware of a thing I’m potentially wrong about, they are doing me a *favor* and helping me to be better at my job. That’s something I should welcome, rather than bristle at or deflect.

    It also helps to just own up to errors when you make them. If it didn’t hurt anybody or otherwise cause a serious problem, I have way more respect for a person who admits “Hmm, looks like I got that formula wrong” than the person who cooks up a complex justification for why they weren’t technically wrong or why it isn’t their fault. Nobody cares dude, just fix it and move on to the nest thing.

    1. SarahKay*

      Cordoba’s last point is excellent. Someone who never admits fault isn’t seen as perfect, they’re seen as infuriating and even more so if they try and blame other people as well as refusing to admit that they themselves were wrong.
      Even for tiny mistakes, if you can never admit something was your error you’re still likely to be a metaphorical stone in the shoe for your team-mates – not life-threatening, but so, so, irritating.
      If, on the other hand, you can calmly say “oh, yes, sorry, that was my mistake” and fix whatever it was, the only impression people are likely to take away of you is that you’re professional and easy to work with.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Exactly! People who can’t admit fault and are not chill about constructive feedback look brittle, fragile, childish… they don’t look competent. And they don’t have a very good chance to genuinely become competent, because they close off avenues for their mistakes and weaknesses to be improved.

    2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      I work in construction and do have to act as a project manager over subcontrators sometimes, though that’s not my main role. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, but the only area where I’m an “expert” is the one I happened to work in before I switched over to the side of construction management. I always err on the side of thinking I don’t know everything there is to know, even if it turns out I’m correct about something. The best way to lose the respect of your subs is to pretend like you know everything about their jobs. Yes, you need to have a general knowledge or you can’t effectively run the whole project, but I’m not going to tell an electrician exactly how to do their job if I’ve never been an electrician.

      We’ve got a great team of subcontractors we hire over and over again for projects, and the greatest reason we all work together well is we allow each other to make mistakes and learn from them. Hopefully not serious or expensive mistakes, but as long as their not making excuses like the ones you mentioned, trying to justify something or say they’re not technically wrong, then we’re not angry about it and we find a way to fix it and keep going. Until we’re losing time and money, and then it will become an issue!

  7. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    Practice NOT reacting in the moment to something that causes a knee-jerk reaction/emotion. Give yourself a little time to reflect on WHY you felt that way, and if you need to go back to clarify something, or get more context, or whatever, that’s fine. Honestly, that’s the biggest thing. Also – people aren’t out to get you personally. Most work-related things are NOT personal, even if they feel that way. That said, there are personalities that you may run into that do make it personal, but practicing businesslike communication and actions will help that be less of a thing. And don’t become complacent! The fact that you are aware of this about yourself is huge in and of itself – just keep being aware.

    1. Always Late to the Party*

      This is great advice.

      I would add that if you learn to examine *why* you are feeling bristled/deflecting blame it will serve you VERY well, both professionally and personally. I am just starting to learn this in my 30s and boy do I wish I’d had that self-awareness in my 20s. It can be really hard to do, but practicing mindful meditation and journaling have helped me, and the more you practice it the easier it gets.

    2. tangerineRose*

      And if you have a trusted friend to run this by, that can be very helpful.

  8. MountainMeg*

    I used to be VERY much the same. I think the fact that you’re aware of it is a great first step. The only way to get better at taking feedback and criticism is practice. Seek out feedback. Ask your coworkers and managers for open feedback and ask clarifying question when they give it. Another thing I’ve noticed – a lot of being able to accept criticism well is about confidence in yourself and your value outside of being above criticism. I’ve found that being able to separate my “self” from my work allows me some distance and clarity to realize that people aren’t personally attacking me with criticism or feedback, but giving me the opportunity to get better at my work. Most of this just comes with time and practice!

    I’m not saying this is you, but I personally grew up in a home where criticism wasn’t necessarily given in a productive way, but was mostly used as a weapon. This led me to adopt a perfectionist mentality and any criticism felt like an attack on that. I had to recognize my personal history and hang ups around that and realize that not everyone is “out to get me” or trying to make me look bad with feedback. In fact, most of the time is quite the opposite! Anyway, that’s just to say that you may want to think about your history with feedback and see if there’s anything there.

    Good luck! This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to work out in my career. But so worth it!

  9. A Genuine Scientician*

    There are a number of different ways that people can become defensive. But one thing I think can help some types is:

    Imagine that you are getting this feedback from someone you trust and is providing it for your benefit.

    Your boss may not be that person, but hopefully there’s someone in your life who is. Your best friend. A mentor. A teacher who really seemed to get you. A manager in another department that you wished was yours.

    A second thought that is more of just a general active listening approach is to try to summarize and reflect back what they’ve said. eg: “If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re concerned about X”. That can be helpful because sometimes your negative reaction is to something that the person providing the feedback was NOT trying to convey. And even if it is, it gives you a short pause to think about what they’ve said, rather than saying the first thing that pops into your head.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      I would like to buy you several drinks of your choice for this. I wish someone had said it to me when I was in my teens.

  10. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I commented this on the original post before I saw that Alison would use this for Ask the Readers, so I hope it’s ok that I’m copying my original answer.

    I think you’ve already got step 1, which is noticing it and looking for strategies to improve.

    Other ideas (mix and match which work best for you):
    1. Be aware how you sound in writing. If responding to an email makes you angry, reread and edit later.
    2. Write out your frustration in a letter or email to no one. And then toss/burn/delete. It’s cathartic without being damaging. Just be sure no one could ever accidentally read these!
    3. Observe, all the time. Even in social exchanges or quick meetings. What is your office culture like? Who do you respect professionally? How do they act?
    4. Take time off and use it to totally disconnect from work.
    5. Figure out if there’s anything that sets off your eye-roll face. For me, when That Annoying Guy is talking in meetings, if I make eye contact with anyone else, I smirk. When he speaks, I suddenly become very invested in my notepad or keeping my face squarely ahead.

    1. Amber Rose*

      My boss has a temper, and she reads her emails out loud to me on a regular basis to get a second opinion on how angry they sound before she sends them. :D

      1. Falcon*

        This all the time! I work in account management, and my coworkers and I often ask each other to check the tone of our emails if we’re feeling particularly frustrated.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          My boss has pulled me into his office several times for this, and there’s been a few times we found a different way to phrase some choice words! Luckily he recognizes he can be a little hot-headed.

      2. DrSalty*

        This practice is encouraged in my office for dealing with difficult clients! A second opinion is never a bad thing if you’re even a little unsure of how you’re coming across.

      3. Kimmy Schmidt*

        My partner teases me because I always “draft” emails instead of just sending them, but tone, communication, relationships (and egos), are huge in my field. And I need to make sure that my snippy sarcasm doesn’t leak out too much!

    2. Combinatorialist*

      If you are writing the carthartic letter in an email, DON’T fill out the TO field. It might be satisfying putting their name in to imagine them reading it, but it isn’t worth the risk of clicking send on default.

      1. Other Becky*

        I take it a step further because sometimes my email client “suggests” recipients – I address them to myself.

  11. Trout 'Waver*

    Just asking the question means you’re at least self aware enough to realize that it can be a problem.

    Find trusted mentors and model their behavior. And self-introspection.

    Also, you don’t have to be yourself at work. Adopt a work persona that is conflict averse. It’s like putting on PPE.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      Massive disagree on your last point. Being able to handle negative emotions in the moment does not equal not being yourself.

      1. Cordoba*

        However, if “Being yourself” does mean that you respond inappropriately to reasonable criticism then it may well be a good idea to deliberately be somebody else from 8-5.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        I’m unclear on how you interpreted adopting a work persona as being unable to handle negative emotions?

        By adopting a work persona, I mean that at work you have to work with politics and egos that you might otherwise completely disengage from. You also have to tolerate behaviors you would never tolerate in friends or family.

      3. pbnj*

        I find many people act differently at work than at home. I think this is what they mean here.

      4. New Jack Karyn*

        ‘Being myself’ means lounging around in a t-shirt and boxers, playing video games, and reading fantasy novels. See also: cussing like a sailor. I do something different when I’m at work.

  12. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

    I was also like this in my first few jobs out of college. For me, it wasn’t that I was arrogant or thought I couldn’t make a mistake – it was the opposite. I struggled so much with self-confidence and trusting in my own competence that any criticism, no matter how minor, felt huge and catastrophic to me, so I *couldn’t* acknowledge that it for fear of completely undermining myself. I still remember making a big mistake at my first post-college job (I lost a check from a program participant), and cringe at how nice and understanding my boss was about it, and how I just…didn’t apologize or admit fault.

    That was over a decade ago, and I like to think I’ve learned a lot since then. One important lesson for me is that admitting fault doesn’t make you look bad or stupid; it’s actually the best thing you can do when you have made a mistake. Take responsibility, be accountable. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t make it a huge deal, but acknowledge your mistake and apologize, then move on to what you’ll do to fix it or avoid repetition in the future. That will earn you credibility with (good) bosses and colleagues, and then you’ve gained the opportunity to prove that you are mature, professional, and capable of learning from your mistakes.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I still struggle with this, honestly. Small things feel like an attack to me and I have to stop and wait until I can be objective about them before responding. My perception of the tone of a communication can change depending on my emotions. I really dislike that about myself and I have gotten a TON better over the years but I am still working on it. Experience is a great confidence booster too.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I remind myself that I want to be very good at my job, and learning from constructive criticism helps with that. How can I get better if no one tells me what I’m doing wrong?

  13. Eillah*

    I’m only 28, so my advice won’t have much weight. One thing I think is important is to always be open to the idea that you might have been wrong, stubborn, or hadn’t seen the whole picture. Accept that you will have these moments often, be humbled by them, and put those feelings towards good use (and action).

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think that being aware that you might not have the whole picture would save a lot of angst for a lot of employees, frankly. A significant part of the conflict we see on AAM between bosses/companies and employees who think they know better boils down to the employee not having (and not being entitled to) the full context, and needing to accept that.

      Also, it’s not school. You don’t get rewarded for debating.

  14. Hills to Die on*

    I think it would be helpful for you to find someone at the company whose professional demeanor you admire, and observe what they do. Also, a mentor would probably be able to help with this as well, especially if they are familiar with the company culture and work.

    It can sometimes be a fine line between owning your mistakes and finding yourself under a bus. You absolutely want to act with integrity, but you also want to protect yourself. I have worked at places with tons of infighting where you really have to watch your back, and others where it’s not really an issue. Know your culture and get discreet advice from a respected, closed-mouthed coworker when you need it.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Goodness, yes. A good “I want to be like that!” role model is so very helpful.

  15. YoungTen*

    One of the keys to Self-awareness is to ask “am I self-aware?’. Self-awareness means you have the capability to objectively analyze yourself. It’s not easy and many don’t reach that point. It has less to do with age and more to do with one’s desire be a decent member of society. When people lack self-awareness, they say and do things with no regard as to how it affects others. If you are constantly asking “how does this affect others? then you are guarding agent being self-absorbed.

    1. Dan*

      I think there’s a difference between acting without caring how others may feel, and acting without being able to perceive how others may feel. One makes you a jerk, and the other not so much. But either one is about a lack of self awareness.

      One thing I’ve learned over time about developing self awareness: If people react negatively to an email you sent, and you didn’t expect that reaction, can you put themselves in their shoes and perhaps come up with better phrasing that will still get your points across? That’s one thing and there’s hope. But if you can’t/won’t do that or just assume the other person is the problem, well, that’s the “lacks self awareness” being discussed.

  16. Washi*

    This might sound kind of weird, but I’ve found it helpful to pay attention to what an emotional reaction feels like in my body. I feel a tightness in my chest and a kind of swirly feeling in my head, and when I notice those things, I try to take a pause to calm down, or if that’s not an option, I try to say as little as possible. That’s been more helpful than asking myself whether I’m being rational or reactive, because in the moment my feelings seem totally justified! But if I notice that feeling, I know that I won’t be speaking from a good place and need to get to a better headspace before I respond.

    1. AAM the initials*

      THIS. I tend to clench my teeth, breathe in deeply, and hold my breath. Sometimes I can stop my initial reaction just by breathing out while relaxing my jaw. It’s wild!

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I find my shoulders hurting at the end of the day sometimes, then finally realized it’s because I have a tendency to kind of “clench” my shoulders when I’m tense or stressed out. I have to remind myself to physically relax my shoulders and let them drop away from my neck. Yoga definitely helped, because I learned to recognize the physical reaction to the stress. I would often find myself a little more testy at the end of the day, and quicker to react negatively towards tasks, because I was causing myself pain throughout the day! Definitely not good!

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, this. I have an anxiety disorder and I feel it in my body long before I can cognitively recognize it. If you learn the physical symptoms of anger, anxiety, fear and learn to ID them in your body than you are much more likely to be able to step back. Another thing I’ve learned is that you can not control how you feel, but you can control how you react to those feelings.

    3. juliebulie*

      Yes. I am kind of mentally divorced from a lot of my physical reactions to emotions, and sometimes it takes a while to notice them and realize what they are. This lack of awareness is probably a coping mechanism I developed when I was young. Recognizing these feelings may may be effortless for some people, but for others it is not.

  17. Kramerica Industries*

    Okay this is going to sound a little bad, but it’s the wakeup call I needed when I was a new grad.

    I was complaining to my manager once about how I thought that “playing the game” was stupid. I thought that things like going to work events, pretending to care when people told boring tangent stories, and smiling even when people were being frustrating were signs of fakeness. My manager responded by saying that it was ultimately my choice if i decided to interact with others nicely or not. Then she said that “Joan made it through her career without playing the game”.

    Joan is reputably awful to work with. I hated working with her because of how snippy and condescending she was. But she definitely saw that she was “telling it like it is” instead of caring about what others think (or valuing their opinions). This is what really hit me. I hate working with her, so why would I want to be her? Do I really want others to feel the same way about working with me? Absolutely not. So when I have the urge to be negative or overtly deflect my own responsibility, I ask myself “is this something Joan would do?” If they answer is yes, then I steer clear from the behaviour.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I do this, but the other way – I think of someone who does a really good job at the thing I am struggling with.
      If I am feeling like an imposter or insecure, I think about what Jonas would do – he projects confidence and he thinks fast on his feet. He shows up prepared, researched, and ready for everything. If I want to go on the defensive, I think about what Mike would do – he is kind and wins people over. If I don’t know what to do – what would Chuck do? File it away without revealing that he even saw it, and bring it back out at the right time? Having a hard time building a rapport with someone – what would Nikki do? She’s charming and friendly without trying to hard.

    2. Retail not Retail*

      Yes yes yes. My Joan is unpleasant about xyz and I loathe him so I’ll say the opposite and if I can’t say it, I think it.

      It’s made work much more rewarding. Got soaked first hour of work? Hey it’ll be warm today. Have to walk a lot? Think of them steps! Have to clean the trash? May find money or toys or something crazy (a hookah? One crutch?)!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I am slowly growing out of my astonishment at how many people think that playing the game or softening the edges is “fake” and “telling it like it is” is the only way to be real or honest, and have come to the conclusion that this view is mostly a self-centered unwillingness to consider anyone but oneself or, frankly, consider the long-term consequences of one’s method of delivery. I mean, I can be as blunt as the rest of them, but it serves me a lot better to make this person feel good about the interaction, even if I can’t give them what they want. They’ll be a lot more likely to come back to us in the future and to recommend my organization to other people if, yeah, I blunt the edges. This is literally one of the lowest-cost things you can do that can pay off really well in the long run.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes, it’s really important to recognize that being polite, understanding, and patient with people isn’t actually “playing the game “or “being fake”- as long as you’re actually a kind, mature person.

        Basically, try to be someone for whom that kind of attitude isn’t fake.

      2. Eliza*

        I think an additional problem is that when you get a critical mass of people like that in the workplace, they become self-reinforcing: somebody who thinks politeness is fake is only going to be polite if they feel the need to manipulate others, and anyone else with a similar worldview is going to see that pattern of behaviour and feel vindicated. A workplace culture that ends up dominated by people with that view is a workplace culture to flee from.

    4. The Rural Juror*

      I used to find myself thinking, “Oh I like that person’s (insert clothing, haircut, car, whatever)” and realizing I should just tell them that I like that thing. It takes two seconds to say, “I like your shirt.” It’s not fake, I genuinely noticed what they’re wearing, something they made a conscious decision to wear, and I had a good reaction to it. I should tell them. 99.99% of the time they’ll be grateful I noticed and spoke up.

      Same goes for things you notice about coworkers and their achievements. Someone did something very minor but still made your job easier, tell them you thought it was an improvement and it’s saving you some time. You don’t have to say thank you thank you thank you, the appreciation can be implied and still have impact.

      I think “playing the game” would be more like finding disingenuous reasons to compliment people about so they’ll like you more. I’m not saying that’s never appropriate, just that you could go too far with it and be seen as the person who’s always kissing a**. I know an acquaintance like that, and honestly it gets annoying. He’ll spend the first minute of greeting you at an event complimenting your hair, your clothes, and everything he can see or think of. THAT feels fake. Don’t be the guy that goes overboard.

      But I do commend you for growing from that realization and experience.

  18. Retail not Retail*

    I’m not very good* at my job and I was even worse when I started. I just don’t know exactly what my boss wants and sometimes this ends poorly when he’s not there. (“But why did you mow that?”)

    I just acknowledge what he said, maybe a quick apology, and a quick explanation (you said “across” and a lot is “across”) and then nothing else. Repeat it if he asks again.

    To prevent it, I just drill down instructions again and bother him when he’s unclear or telling me something impossible. (Weedeat this whole space! This whole space? Yes! Can you come show me?)

    My concern is i have NO poker face but I also come across harder than I intend. I don’t want to be mean or incompetent.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Hah! I worked one summer for a yard guy. He said, “Dig holes where I’ve placed markers, 18″ deep and 18″ across. I’ll be back before you’re done.”

      He was not back before I was done. I concluded that I must not be done, and went back and made each hole bigger. That was not the right answer.

  19. AnonEMoose*

    A few things I’ve learned over the years:

    Understand that people are always going to perceive you through their own personalities, experiences, and filters. They may not interpret your actions or words in the way that you intend them. That’s not malicious on their part, mostly, it’s just how things are. Learning how to present yourself in a way that they can hear what you’re trying to get across can be frustrating, but will stand you in good stead.

    Understand that people have reasons for doing things the way they do. Maybe they’re not what you think are good reasons, but they’re reasons. Take the time to learn the “why” of “how we do things around here” before you start suggesting changes. Because if you think there’s a simple way of doing things better, and they’re not doing it, I promise that it’s not because they’re stupid and you’re not – usually there’s more to the situation. The trope of the brilliant outsider who comes sweeping in and solves everything is appealing in fiction, but very rarely works out in real life.

    Be willing to do the boring/lower level stuff at first. Doing that well and being reliable will help to demonstrate that you are ready to take on greater responsibility. Plus you can learn a lot if you pay attention and ask the right questions.

  20. Tired*

    Think about what outcome you are trying to get before speaking. It might feel good in the moment to respond with a short, angry, defensive, or sarcastic response but is that really going to get you what you want? The answer is “no” in almost every case. I think a lot of office jerks are so committed to being right, or so committed to protecting their pride, they lose sight of what’s actually going to most effectively get the outcome they wanted in the first place and end up turning everyone against them.

  21. Middle Aged Lady*

    All great advice! I would ask: do I only feel this way about work criticism, or am I defensive/blameshifty in other situations, too? This will give you i sight into why you may have developed this defense mechanism. How were your errors handled when you were little? Were your parents patient teachers, or were they harsh or overindulgent? Both can lead to defensiveness or deflecting blame. Being defensive is extremely frustrating to others and will eventually make most people quit trying to help. You should be commended for seeing this trait in yourself. You are young and have a good chance of changing! Kudos to you.

  22. Booklover13*

    Big things, take time before reactions, don’t just self reflect on negative things but also when something positive happen, and be aware of your feels and at least recognize when emotion is involved.

    The thing I think may be the most helpful though is trying to proactively take ownership. I find if I’ve already owned my mistakes/faults to myself, then I bristle less when others mention it. If I can really mean it and own it to myself, then I am better prepared to actually listen to the feedback and steps forward. Also I’ve noticed I get more respect when I introduce a mistake + solution then when I just sit there hoping no one notices.

  23. AnotherAlison*

    Others have touched on personal behavior, but environment is a factor, too. Pick a good company to work for, where your managers treat you well. Stay away from toxic coworkers, as well as toxic friends and family outside of work.

    A frequent comment I heard growing up was my dad coming home from work and saying, “Well, they screwed me again.” It’s hard to be automatically on defense when you think it’s us against them, and it leads to thinking nothing is your fault or responsibility, and that the company is always out to get you.

    Also being a not-popular kid (me, not you) growing up, it’s easy to see company leadership as the popular kids and think you’re an outsider. Assume you can use your skill and hard work to be an insider and grow into a leadership role yourself. Work is not completely like school.

    1. HeyPony*

      That’s a really good point about the “getting screwed” mindset. My ex-husband had a very strong internalized belief that all jobs/bosses were somehow screwing him, usually over things that from the outside just looked like basic work stuff. He seemed to have picked that up from his dad as well. It made him very reactionary and dis-proportionate, and I suspect not fun to work with.

  24. Me (I think)*

    Yeah, that was me early in my career. I had freelanced for ten+ years, and at my first staff job after that I was unable to take criticism well. Always trying to deflect blame for things I had clearly screwed up.

    After more than twenty years in the staff job, I have become much better at taking responsibility. “I’m so sorry, I dropped the ball on that and I will fix it immediately” goes a long way in all kinds of situations.

    (Also, give all the credit to your employees. Seriously.)

  25. Baffled Teacher*

    I think you’re on the right track! I’m guessing you’re in your early to mid 20s? I think you’re doing pretty well! The fact that you are Keeping Feelings on the Inside and interacting professionally is a huge step that some people never master, no matter their age. The more experience you get, the less defensive and insecure you will feel. (it won’t go all the way away—feeling a tiny bit like NUH UH IT WAS THEIR FAULT and UGGGHH I AM DOING FINE WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME is very natural!) Feedback that would have crushed me at 23 is now, at 38, just…feedback. Don’t be afraid to implement it, don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to check in. It really will help you grow. Good luck!

    (Also I promise that 5-10 years from now, no matter how professional and polished you are today, you will look back in slight horror at yourself. Ask me about the time I started student teaching two days late because I felt like it, basically).

  26. HeyPony*

    I cringe so hard at my younger professional self. I was an obnoxious know-it-all and I can only imagine the intense eye-rolling that went on behind my back (and probably to my face but I was too far up my own azz to see it).

    The best thing I ever finally figured out is that you can’t look to your work to fill spaces/emotions that are more appropriately filled elsewhere in your life. Your co-workers and supervisors are not there to validate you. The company exists to make money and provide a good or service, not to prop up your wildly inflated self-concept. Make friends, find a relationship, enjoy a hobby and become part of your neighborhood. All of those things are personal and support that part of your life that is not work related.

    Work is work. Work criticism and feedback is related to your work. You may make friends at work and it’s nice to enjoy what you do and who you do it with, but that is not the role of work in your life. It’s not personal.

    I had to start a whole new career track after several egregious career-limiting actions on my part. I love what I do and I’m successful (director level), but boy do I think about what might have been.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      So true! “You can’t look to your work to fill spaces/emotions that are more appropriately filled elsewhere in your life” is something I wish I’d learned long ago and sometimes I constantly work on.

  27. Volunteer Enforcer*

    A little bit of venting will help you emotionally, but too much will make you grumpy and bitter. Try to respond rather than react; channel your energy (e.g. anger) in a more productive, constructive way. Consider what is under your control and what isn’t, as frustration comes from a place of feeling powerless.

  28. Lynn*

    Understand that you can’t always make people happy — but you don’t want to actively be making them unhappy.

    And if you are defensive sometimes with feedback, it may help to occasionally proactively ask for it so that you are initiating the conversation, and it is isn’t a surprise to you — you can mentally and emotionally prepare for it better. And know that you don’t always have to respond in the moment — “thanks for your thoughts, I will definitely be thinking about that more” is a fine response.

  29. Web Crawler*

    Thank the person giving you feedback, because getting feedback is important. Then process the feedback when you’re alone- you can decide to discard it then if it’s not helpful.

  30. Anonymous Poster*

    I really struggle with negative feedback – lots of reasons why, but it’s not okay.

    The best method I’ve found, is when someone is delivering negative feedback, is to listen and repeat back to the person what I understood. Like:
    “Anony, you know when you’re modifying the widgets per the customer interaction, that you aren’t taking into account what the customer really needs but just do whatever they tell you to do? We need you to be more cognizant of the llama restrictions and regulations that play into these interactions.”
    Me: “I want to make sure I understand: I’m not properly taking into account the llama regulations that say that the widget color cannot be brown, but must always be white, even though the customer wants brown widgets?”

    …I’ve found that this state of mind makes us both be on the same side attacking a problem, and not a “You suck, here’s why” that usually I take the conversation (unwarrantedly, too) on the outset. It’s supposed to be collaborative, and if it can be approached collaboratively from the start, then the supervisor can do their job, and the supervised can improve as the business requires.

    You may have a psycho, and it doesn’t help in those situations. But, most supervisors simply want to do their jobs and help their teams succeed.

    Best of luck!

    1. Drtheliz*

      YES! A lesson in really really glad I learned during my MSc is that bosses *do not care* why something isn’t being done unless there’s an ongoing preventative reason or they actually ask. They also aren’t judging you for not having done it. And don’t care if you’ve started it. It feels *so much* like a criticism when a manager says “can you do the teapot ordering please” and you’ve been collecting quotes for a day already, bit it’s just not. Saying “Sure, I’ll get it done this week” is all they wanted, and being receptive to tasks will serve you far better than a ten minute explanation of why you’re a mind-reader.

      1. TechWorker*

        Haha I hit this from the management side – one of my reports got super snippy once when I asked him if he’d started on x task yet – along the lines of ‘No of course not I’ve been doing z, how was I meant to know you wanted me to do y?’ – a) it was assigned to him for that week, he’d just forgotten and b) I was just asking… there’s no judgement there!

  31. Allonge*

    So – to “bristle at criticism and deflect blame” is not an extreme reaction, by itself. It’s not ideal, but good that you recognise it may be a problem.

    Taking a moment before saying something / sending an email is one of the most important skills you can gain. Try to work on this. In some email programs, you can set up a delayed delivery for all emails you send – it will be sent ten minutes after you click the send button, but you have the option to stop it before sending.

    Try to learn to not take things personally, at least as a default. For me what works is that I think of all the reasons why someone could be doing “whatever thing that is annoying me”. Make bulleted lists, if necessary. If you manage to come up with alternatives to “they are jsut stupid”, it’s easier to respond with emphty.

    And be kind to yourself! Noone goes through a carreer without some bad days!

    1. Mazzy*

      Yes I cringe how I’ve raised important issues in a negative tone on Friday afternoons in the past, because by the time I got all of my ducks in a row, it was Friday, and my brain couldn’t process waiting until Monday. All I ended up doing was pissing bosses off before the weekend.

  32. Mazzy*

    I echo the “restraint of pen and tongue until you figured out what you really need to say” sentiment so won’t repeat it. So I’ll give random advice.

    Comparing yourself too much to other people will lead to unhappiness. A little bit is OK, but if you’re going to get angry every time you’re busier than someone else, you’re going to get really bitter. The truth is, no one can keep up 100% productivity for years or decades straight. As you get more experience, it takes more to stress you out and you complete things with less effort. I think I appear less busy now than I did in my 20s and early 30s. The thing was, I was figuring out everything for the first time then, so was busier, but had a similar outcome. So don’t look at a bunch of 50 year olds working less hours and not getting stressed and assume that you’re picking up all of the slack.

  33. Works in IT*

    Think first, react later!

    There are people at my place of work who make me question their intelligence in the moment, but after much thought, I can usually find a reason for their sometimes nonsensical behavior. And it’s a lot easier to be pleasant and polite to people when you have some explanation for it other than “they’re being foolish AT me”. They aren’t being foolish at you, they’re being foolish in spite of you.

  34. Heat's Kitchen*

    1. Always start with assuming positive intent
    2. The mañana rule has been huge for me. Do not react to something that makes you mad/upset until the next day. Take the day to simmer down. If you absolutely must respond that day, try to take a walk first.
    3. If you need to vent, make sure you have trustworthy coworkers.
    4. If you’re venting to your boss, try to bring possible solutions to the problems. “I’m upset at Suzie for X. I’m thinking of responding by doing Y. What do you think?”
    5. Listen more than you talk when someone is giving you feedback. If you disagree, don’t say so in the moment. Let it sink in. Even if it’s off base, there’s likely something you can learn from it.

  35. Anon100*

    With a fresh new crop of interns and new grads coming in, this is a pretty timely discussion! I’ve been enjoying other people’s comments, and 10+ years into my careers, I’ve noted a few things:

    1) Don’t be knee-jerk defensive to criticism. Better to take a moment and say “Hm, ok. I’ll think about it.” or “I see. I’ll do better/I won’t make that mistake again.”
    2) Do try to remember that there is a difference between school and the professional world. In school you’re constantly told that you’re the bright new generation and will make *changes!!* but in reality, the professional world tends to move slower in some circles, and you should be aware of your office culture. Tech tends to be much more forward looking, but plenty of industries are much more traditional and move slower.
    3) Sometimes decisions that don’t make sense to you make sense to upper levels, especially if there’s a technology vs business decision. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s just some office/client political aspect you’re not aware of. You don’t need to know all the details, but just that in general, perhaps a client/vendor has a certain agreement with your firm and that’s just how things are.
    4) Soft skills tend to develop over time. Since I’m in a STEM industry, we tend to hire a lot of young people with excellent technical skills, but the ones that are promoted tend to be those that learn soft skills in communicating with people in respectful ways. If you want to manage projects, products, other people, etc, learn how to communicate effectively and respectfully. (And know when to kick things up to your manager/boss when you don’t know stuff.)

    1. TechWorker*

      On #2 – another way in which work isn’t like academia is that there’s no extra credit for doing something all yourself. If there’s something really technically difficult and you slog through it and it takes you 3 weeks, but you could have done it in 2 weeks if you’d asked for help and had an hour of time from the right person… then that’s not necessarily a good use of the extra week.

  36. Erinwithans*

    For defensiveness, specifically, I’ve found it useful to recognize that when I was new to the job world and something went wrong, my first impulse is a kind of panicked “It wasn’t me! Or if it was me, here are all the reasons why it happened that weren’t my fault!” And, regardless of if that is true, it doesn’t look good. It does not deflect blame from you if you try to deflect the blame from you.

    Instead, if you can pause, take a breath, recognize that reaction and put it aside for a moment, and respond with something like, hmmm, it looks like I got the wrong ID number here, and it caused X problem. In the future I’ll be sure to Y, or we can add in check Z to be sure this doesn’t happen again. That actually makes you look so much better than trying to prove it wasn’t your mistake in the first place.

    To give a more specific example. I’m a software developer, and our QA people aren’t familiar with my system and their testing doesn’t tend to be very thorough, so more often than I’d like, my code comes back to me with an issue we found in production. The blame here is on both of us – I didn’t code for some edge case, and my safety net of QA failed. But it would look bad and be a poor coworker move for me to be like, QA should have caught it! Wasn’t me! Especially because, well, I coded it, so yes it was. So my go-to response is to say, oh, it looks like my code made X mistake on this edge case where [specifics]. I’ll fix it today/tomorrow, and I’ll talk to QA to make sure we write up a test case for this situation going forward.

    That way, we’re addressing what went wrong, fixing it, and making sure it won’t happen again. Blame doesn’t really need to come into it, and it comes across as calm and professional.

    1. A Genuine Scientician*

      It also makes a big difference in what way you’re defensive.

      At OldJob, for my first month and a half of weekly meetings about a project I was coordinating, we had a version of this conversation every week:

      Other Stakeholder: “What’s the status on the llama grooming initiative?”
      Senior Project Person: “I sent an email to Scientician asking about the comparison of boar bristles to synthetic brushes, but he hasn’t responded, so I haven’t been able to move forward.”
      Me: “Huh, that’s strange. According to my email program, I replied to that email at 3:06pm last Monday; the subject line was ‘Reasons why I think we should go with boar bristle brushes.’ Can you check to make sure it wasn’t caught in your spam filter?”
      Senior Project Person: “Oh, it’s in my inbox and marked read, but I’ve never seen this before.”
      Me: “Weird. Maybe we should talk to IT Services. Well, as I laid out in the message, I think we should go with the boar bristles because….”

      After 6 weeks in a row of this happening, Other Stakeholder said “Every week you say Scientician hasn’t responded to an email. And every single time it turns out that he has, and you have the email marked as read, but you don’t remember it. Maybe you could stop saying he hasn’t replied, since it appears he always has?” And Senior Project Person started phrasing things more as “I don’t remember seeing anything about…”

      I *was* feeling defensive, since I was being accused of not doing something which I had actually done, and Senior Project Person was much higher up in the chain of command than I was, and I was very new to the role. But I kept to a strictly factual reporting of what I had done, with evidence, I was very matter of fact about it, and I treated it as a possible technical glitch none of us were responsible for even though I had reason to suspect that Senior Project Person was actually pretty disorganized. That ended up reflecting very well on me, as the other people in the group quickly viewed me as more reliable than Senior Project Person on doing what I said I would.

  37. Bad Stuff*

    Always remember, the harder it is to hear something, the more it cuts, the more it stings, the more important it is for you to hear it.

  38. Book Pony*

    For me, if the criticism is coming via email, I just say “Thank you” and move on.

    The vibe I’ve gotten from my job is that no one wants to hear why you did the thing wrong, or even steps you’re going to take to not do the thing in the future. They just want you to acknowledge the feedback and get back to work.

    At my old job, I could ask where the feedback was coming from, e.g. “Just last week we were shaving the llamas. When did we start dyeing them instead?” which would usually reveal that the person giving the feedback told everyone while I was out and then forgot to inform me. But you know your office culture best, so just observe and see how others take feedback, I suppose.

  39. Vimes*

    It takes practice but one thing I get consistent complements on in my work life is my ability to take feedback positively even though I’m fairly young in my age and career. Here some things I do:

    1. Frame it as feedback in my mind and consider everything a learning experience. I don’t always have to agree with feedback but also sometimes even if I think it’s wrong it’s how my boss wants it done so I just have to do it that way. It’s not personal.
    2. When getting feedback listen attentively, make eye contact, and take notes. It helps me focus on the act rather than how I’m feeling and makes the person giving feedback know they’re being listened to.
    3. Practice keeping a neutral expression and neutral or even enthusiastic tone of voice no matter how you feel.
    4. Ask genuine questions. I often will say something like “I’ve been doing it X way but that clearly isn’t working how we need it to, do you have a way you do it you can recommend?” Or if you don’t have questions, repeat back what they said in your own words to confirm you understood correctly.
    5. Keep in mind 99% people 99% of the time are genuinely trying to be helpful when giving feedback. There’s exceptions or times when the person is giving bad advice or is just bad at delivering feedback or isn’t the appropriate person to do that but largely your boss, your team lead, project manager, whatever is trying to help.

    It’s not only worth the practice because people like when you can take feedback positively it also open a door for allowing discussion once they trust your judgement. These days when I get feedback if I’m really not sure it’s spot on I can say “Okay, I hear you but can I do it like Z instead of Y for these reasons? The results will still be X.” Etc.

    And I really want to emphasize not just appearing positive and appearing to be listening but genuinely listening and putting in place the feedback you get. It’s almost as bad as having a bad attitude about it when someone listens and nods and say they’ve got it when told “we need to to X instead of Y for this reason, okay?” But seem to immediately forget what was said and do X again.

  40. Petty Editor*

    1. Don’t assume malice where innocent ignorance would suffice. If someone is asking too much of you or working on what you should be, they’re just trying to get a job done. Kindly educate or redirect.
    2. People are fighting battles you can’t know about. That can spill over into the way they interact with others. Assume they don’t have a problem with you, they just have a problem in their life.
    3. Always default to approach problems as process issues, not personal issues, and speak as such. “What is your problem?” is much less constructive of an approach than “How can we fix this hiccup in the process?” It allows people to avoid embarrassment or emotional defensiveness when egos are bruised. Things just work more smoothly that way.
    4. Speak these attitudes into existence. When you talk like you’re on a team trying to solve problems together, people respond better, and your mindset will respond or reshape in time.
    5. Practice loving-kindness meditation. It has truly affected how I work with others, and it is reflected in my reputation as someone who is low-drama and can work well with “strong personalities”. Definitely helps with project management working with the C-suite!
    6. Lastly, learn to let go of intractable personality conflicts. “That’s a you problem, not a me problem” helps me contextualize that I can’t solve every issue, so I can’t take it personally when conflicts arise. I learn to develop peace with that discomfort.

    1. Olive Hornby*

      Also came here to suggest meditation! I had a very difficult boss who I could feel myself getting passive aggressive with, and loving-kindness meditation really helped me reset that dynamic. My boss remained difficult, but I was able to respond from a place of compassion while also setting the boundaries I needed.

      OP might also find mindfulness meditation helpful in implementing some of the advice here about separating your emotional/physical responses from your reactions.

  41. LivetoRead*

    The advice I still give myself (after almost 30 years in the working world) and young people is that when you received feedback don’t respond defensively immediately. Everyone has that knee jerk reaction to be defensive whether you have been in the working world a short while or a long time. Ask questions if appropriate and if you are able. Acknowledge that you have been given information that you need to think about. And then, go and lick your wounds. It hurts whether the feedback is justified or not. Allow yourself to feel hurt for a little while.

    Then think about the feedback and try to be objective. Have you been late? Did you not understand something? If you aren’t sure, ask someone you trust. Maybe a mentor. Probably not a parent or co-worker at your level. They aren’t objective usually. Then formulate a response.

    Assuming that the feedback is valid, acknowledge your error or fault. Provide a firm plan with how to improve even if it is just setting another alarm clock or something because you are late. It could be asking someone to check your work. Or it could be sending a weekly update on progress. And most importantly, acknowledge your responsibility in the problem.

    Feedback is personal but don’t immediately jump to believing that someone has it in for you or a co worker stabbed you in the back or that you are going to be fired. Most employers don’t provide feedback or put someone on a PIP with the intention of firing them. It is personal because it is your job and your livelihood and your pride, but it isn’t personal in the sense that you are being singled out unfairly.

    Sometimes you have to provide a response quickly and if you do, don’t be defensive. It is fine to ask for clarification or to point out that you simply understood something differently such as you thought you only had to provide an update when a project was finished instead of weekly. That isn’t being defensive, but taking responsbility and stating that now that you understand you will act differently.

    There are definitely times when the feedback isn’t accurate. In the case of it being the result of bias by a boss (and not your perceived bias but true bias against you because of age or race or something else), you still shouldn’t be defensive but you do need to address. My advice is to almost always still take a step back and think about a measured response and think about how best to respond and to whom you should respond.

    Flying into anger even if you have been unjustly accused of something (such as theft) almost always backfires. That isn’t always fair but it happens.

    With most bosses, it is reasonable to say to you have been given a lot of think about and you would like to process and get back to her.

    There are certainly times that I might not have been able to be dignified and not angry such as when one letter writer was told to wear breast prosthetics because she was making the men uncomfortable. I probably would have lost it but if you can be measured in your response, it is almost always best.

    Just because you should take responsibility for your actions doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. It is ok to feel hurt and be hurt, just don’t be defensie.

  42. LadyByTheLake*

    Another thing — the LW earlier this week had criticized their boss and others. An important lesson is that if there is something that doesn’t make sense or seems wrong or stupid (and there is lots of stuff that in workplaces that seems wrong or stupid, and often it really is), the best way to deal with that at least initially is to ask questions. “Help me understand why we are putting red spouts on green teapots” etc. I am a senior expert so am in a position to forcefully call out things that are wrong but in my role I can’t actually fix them. I have found that even from my position of expertise and seniority it doesn’t usually work to say “that’s wrong, fix it” right out of the box. Lots of times if I can make people try to justify it, they can see the problems themselves. Other times, I have expertise that they don’t have, if I can have them explain and then provide them information that they are missing (“actually, we aren’t allowed to put red spouts on green teapots because xyz”), it is easier to convince them to change — particularly when their only explanation is “we’ve always done it that way.”

  43. Vimes*

    Oh and the above is very much assuming you’re getting the feedback in person. If it’s over email and it upsets you, take a couple minute break. Come back and write a draft response. Break again,go back and read it objectively and see if it sounds defensive. I’ve deleted so so many long emails that sounds too defensive to feedback and just ended up writing simply “Thank you! I’ll do that going forward!”

    If really I’m really not sure about the feedback I’ll reach out and say “I know you’re busy but can we hope on the phone for a few minutes to clarify?” And then do a lot of my above comments practices anyways because people can tell if you’re not listening on the phone even if they can’t see you.

  44. Ranon*

    Practice failure! School is mostly set up so that you never really fail at things, but the reality is you’re going to screw up at stuff, probably repeatedly, all the time. Having comfort in being wrong makes it much easier to take feedback because you’re not starting from a place of defensiveness.

    Since practice is inherently about failing over and over I recommend finding something outside of work to be bad at- for me it’s a martial art, for you it might be, idk, crochet or something. Then, work at getting better. Try things and fail spectacularly! Watch as the world doesn’t end because you are bad at things, even though it is uncomfortable. Get feedback from other people about what you can do better- it’s just a hobby, it doesn’t matter if you’re ever any good at it- can you take that feedback, when the stakes are basically zero? Keep working at it.

    1. Cordoba*

      This is excellent advice. Many young high-achiever types don’t have much experience with failure, and often have chosen what to do based at least partially on where they though they would most likely be successful.

      If you’re one of these people, it can be very helful to take up a low-stakes outside interest where you will struggle and fail and get used to it before the same thing happens in your professional life. Because no matter how smart/dedicated/industrious/educated you are, it *will* eventually happen in your professional life.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes! I did this with running. Objectively I am not very good at running. I’m never going to win any race that I enter, and I’m firmly in the middle of the pack, totally average for my age, never going to set the world on fire in any way shape or form. But – as well as enjoying it for what it is – part of why I carry on running is that it gives me a way of reminding myself that I don’t have to be the best at everything, it’s OK to have a bad run, it’s OK not to be constantly trying to beat my best times. There are plenty of other enjoyable things about running that mean I don’t actually care if I’m never going to win anything.

      2. TechWorker*

        I’ve seen so many folks struggle with this. Academia wasn’t that hard for them so when work is hard, they get disheartened.

  45. Red*

    I always learned it as work off the 2nd thought. Your first thought is the instinctive response you’re having, which oftentimes is a way we were taught when we were young. Always wait for the second thought because that’s the thought that’s rational that you’ve developed yourself.

    So if someone says you’re work is all wrong, you’re first thought that they’re wrong or stupid or whatever is the instinct response and the second thought, “oh maybe they have a point”, is the response you’ve worked on developing and the one you should work off of.

  46. Kelly L.*

    Make like Aaron Burr and wait for it.

    If I get an email that gets my back up, I let it sit a bit. Sometimes I misread it and it doesn’t say anything bad at all. Sometimes it gets resolved while I wait, and I get vindicated without even having to defend myself. For example:

    “Kelly, why haven’t you sent the TPS reports?!?!?!?”
    (Wait for it!)
    “Oops, I just saw that they were in a later email. Sorry.”

  47. Em*

    There are a few things that helped me to be less arrogant:
    1) Actually saying “you know what, I did that wrong.” Aloud. To other people. I’d been loath to admit mistakes because I was so anxious that if I made a MISTAKE someone would think I was BAD and then they wouldn’t LIKE me, and all that anxiety wound up interpreting itself externally as arrogance and snappishness and defensiveness. Defensiveness is a natural reaction: something might hurt me, armour up!
    I practiced on small things. “Whoops, I burnt my toast this morning!” “Oh geeze, I really screwed up that parking job. I’ll have to remember to check before I dash out of the car into the store next time.” When the world didn’t end, I found it much easier to listen to other people tell me when I should have done something differently, because I’d worked on becoming comfortable with Being Wrong.

    2) Repeating to myself over and over: “This person is taking the time to give me feedback. That means this person, who is experienced and knowledgeable, thinks I and my work are worth their time. Feedback is a COMPLIMENT.” Reframing my thoughts to prioritize that helped me to move from defensiveness (“I have to prove I’m worthy!”) to thoughtful gratitude. (“Wow, that’s going to be really helpful to me going forward. Thanks! If I make my custard sculpture using a slightly higher proportion of sugar next time, do you think that would help solve the sloppiness issue?”)

    1. CM*

      #2, appreciating negative feedback as a gift, has really helped me over the years. Giving negative feedback is uncomfortable; most people dread doing it. When somebody bothers to give you negative feedback, most often it means they are genuinely trying to help you improve, even though it’s not easy or fun for them. If they didn’t care, they would take the easy route and say nothing.

      What’s more, someone who’s frustrated at you is likely to completely change their attitude if you accept their feedback with grace. If you’re defensive, it will make them frustrated that they had to have this conversation in the first place and it didn’t amount to anything. On the other hand, if you say, “Thank you, I appreciate that, and I’m going to think about how I can do it differently next time,” they will have a better opinion of you and feel that the effort they put into the conversation was worth it.

  48. Malarkey01*

    I think a common issue we see with newer employees is that they get too personally attached to their ideas/solutions instead of realizing that a business is putting a big puzzle together. I think you can be too passionate about your work and lose focus of its place in an organization. So I think working on how you present your ideas with the greatest advocacy but then recognize when it doesn’t go your way it’s not a reflection of your idea’s worth as much as it’s relationship to 12 other moving parts.

    I struggled in the beginning of my career with my “but that’s wrong!” reaction if management went a different direction or didn’t accept my ideas. When I got a little perspective and realized my job was to execute managements directives it helped me separate between this is the wrong way to do it internal fight and I’m being paid to do x whether I think it’s best or not.

    1. Double A*

      It’s also helpful to realize that every system will have its flaws, redundancies, and quirks.

      I instinctually very dedicated to the idea that there is a One True System out there that will be perfect, and so I’m always working towards that… but I can lead me to be overly frustrated with the current system, when really the new system (whatever it might be) would only be about 10% better and would have its own aggravations. So I’ve learned to kind of just work with what I have (while also thinking about what are improvements that truly would make a difference).

      The other thing it’s been really hard for me to learn is that a system is only as good as the people running it. You can have the best procedures, rules, and tools, but if the people using them don’t use the correctly, or don’t care, then the whole thing doesn’t work. Though I think we’ve been getting a lesson in this on a national level over the past several years.

      1. Allonge*

        This. Beware of sentences like this _should_ work this way or _every_ x needs to work. Life, systems, workplaces are not going to deliver perfect results. If one does, it likely costs too much somewhere else. Good enough is good enough.

  49. CommanderBanana*

    Therapy can also be really helpful. Sometimes we know what we want to do but we don’t know the actual tools to do it. Therapy can help you develop those tools.

  50. drpuma*

    “bristle at criticism, deflect blame” – both of these sound like they’re backward-looking to me. Maybe focus on how you can contribute to moving forward in a productive way. You do need to actually listen to and digest the criticism in order to really do this. A reputation as a person who fixes things is a good one to have. It’s a shift in perspective, from “this is what happened to get us here” to “okay, now how to we make it better?”

    1. Allonge*

      Yes! In a healthy workplace, nobody points out mistakes to assign blame, or make others feel bad. They point them out so others can learn and do better, or that the system can be fixed, and the organisation can achieve its goal.

  51. Green Goose*

    I think its important to remember that you are new, and as part of being a newer employee, or new to a position/skill set is that there is an element of learning that comes with that. If you take advice or criticism as an attack, then you are closing yourself off to a really key component of a new job. And the inability to take constructive criticism when you are new could thwart your chances of being promoted or even keeping your job.

    On my team one of the roles always goes to an intern or new graduate and as their manager, I expect that they won’t know everything and will need coaching and guidance. The employee that I’ve found the most difficult to manage was the one that could not take any type of criticism, it made it a big ordeal for me whenever I had to provide constructive criticism, I had to literally build in extra time for reassuring him that he was not being fired (I’m known as being pretty gentle with my new employees so the fact that he could not handle constructive criticism from me made me worried about his future working experiences).

  52. Constance Lloyd*

    As a strict rule, I do not vent with coworkers. Excuse the cringey buzzwords, but if I voice a complaint at work my approach is exclusively solution/action oriented. I started doing this for my own morale when I worked in a high-stress role where customer service was a huge component, but it wound up really benefitting my professional reputation as well. I was the youngest person in my team (by a lot- I was just 1 year out of college) but was widely respected for my knowledge and professionalism not just by my teammates, but by managers of other teams outside my department. I vented my tail off once I got home, but focusing on solutions in the office kept things from feeling personal and made it much easier to adapt whenever the final decision was exactly what I was lobbying against.

  53. Residential School*

    Listen to understand, not respond. That’s one of the most frustrating obstacles professionally – people who are so eager to add their two cents that they don’t listen to the information being given and having time to digest it before responding. Assume if you’re giving a knee-jerk response, you probably aren’t right because you haven’t had time to consider your information.

  54. Dan*

    One thing to think about… if you think most people who don’t see eye to eye with you on topics are all idiots, that’s a *big* first step. Odds are they aren’t idiots and know a few things. And the following is serious without any snark: If the people who disagree with you are idiots and they don’t report to you, then you should just quit, and do so quietly. The reasoning is that if they are truly idiots, they aren’t receptive to feedback, and you getting argumentative is just going to hurt your own reputation, and make it harder for you to get other jobs in “your field”. If you quit without making a stink, odds are people will forget who you are, and you won’t have to worry about bad things being said.

    BTW, I’ve stopped working for managers who are idiots, but I never told them why I quit. I just kept quiet, transferred internally, and am now thriving.

  55. Sue*

    One thing new grads don’t always realize is that you’re sometimes just going to be stuck with people who aren’t very good at their jobs or have difficult personalities and you usually can’t do much about it. My current grandboss is not great. She’s erratic, disorganized and frankly just not well suited to the role for other reasons that aren’t even her fault. I had a minor clash with her that really threw me about six months ago, because I’ve never had that situation before where someone lashed out at me like that in a meeting after asking my opinion. I was so upset. It turned out that was the start of her clashing with almost everyone in the organization as her mood swings, which made me feel better that it wasn’t personal, but doesn’t change the need to be very careful around her, as the trust is forever broken. Now, when I am in a meeting with her, I take a notepad and just write down copious notes that I discard after the meeting – I find this helps me to keep my mouth shut and keeps me out of the line of fire, because now I just look like the person who likes to take a lot of notes. It’s obviously not a great situation but sometimes to you just need to pick a coping mechanism to save your own skin and sanity.

  56. Retail not Retail*

    I know you feel “young professionally” but those 6 years of working are educational.

    How did you react to stress in that job? If it was radically different from “professional” stress, how can it be adapted?

    I haven’t had a “professional” job yet. I still gotta get through tasks and work with people. If i make it to office land, I probably won’t step in gorilla poop but I’ll carry the skills that got me through the gorilla task. (We threw as much as possible out rather than carry through because the gorillas hate men and it smelled bad. Thinking outside the box!)

  57. MassMatt*

    I think you are on the right path for avoiding jerkiness just by asking the question. Jerks are rarely self-aware about their behavior.

    Lots of good advice here. Keep listening, keep learning, treat others the way you would like to be treated.

    With getting feedback or criticism, try to separate Messages from the messengers. Maybe someone who’s a jerk still has a really good point about how you messed up the TPS report. Maybe someone you like is being too kind when they tell you “the TPS report is fine, though I do it a little differently”.

  58. Gloucesterina*

    In addition to looking for mentors and role models, it helps to contribute to a healthy culture of feedback in small ways. Analyze a typical day or week, and see if you have the opportunity to take small steps like giving meaningful and specific praise to colleagues; inviting feedback (“I welcome suggestions and changes” “If I’m missing something important about X, please let me know, and I’ll run the changes by you at time Y”); showing that you are cultivating a habit of listening and thinking before questioning or challenging (“I hear you on X. Does it make sense to talk through some different options, or is more urgent to go ahead with doing Y?”)

  59. Double A*

    Probably the most useful lesson I’ve learned in my life is that I’m feeling defensive, I have something I need to reflect about.

    Defensiveness is a protective reaction. So you need to get behind that and see– what am I protecting? Am I afraid that if they’re right about this perceived criticism, I’m stupid? Incompetent? Not being listened to? Then you can address what you’re actually dealing with.

    This is useful in both my professional and personal life. I also see the way the collaboration makes me and my team so much better, and defensiveness kills collaboration. Having to manage other people’s emotions is such a suck of your time and skill, so I don’t want other people to have to manage my emotions.

    Also, when giving feedback, I start with the positive/strengths and build from there. My feedback is always offered with the spirit of improvement, and that is the spirit in which I take feedback.

  60. Susana*

    LW, the fact that this is even on your radar screen is a pretty good indicator that you will NOT be the office jerk. Self-awareness is 90% of it. Best advice is to listen, not to get sucked into office politics (and that means even if it seems “everyone” hates a certain manager or co-worker, might not be based on fair reality). Understand that know matter how much you know, you can still learn something.

    But I’m already so not worried about you. You’re starting out with a great attitude.

  61. James*

    I’ve got a hot temper as well, and it took me years to deal with it. Here’s what worked for me, in case any of it is helpful:

    1) Take up a martial art. This teaches you control and gives you an outlet. It’s socially acceptable, even admirable, to kick someone in the head in a dojo! And after you get thrown into a few trees because you let your temper get the better of you, you learn to control your temper. Nothing teaches so well as being so bruised you can’t sit.

    2) Cultivate the habit of actively seeking criticism on your work. It’s hard at first, because it feels like a personal attack, especially when you’re fresh out of school and are used to the mentality “criticism means lower grades means I could fail”. In work, it’s different, though. Criticism is usually a way to grow as an employee. Managers (good ones, anyway) expect you to screw up; if you’re not screwing up, you’re not challenging yourself. Actively soliciting criticism on your work–and taking it seriously–shwos that you understand this, and are looking to make yourself a better worker. Most (good) managers and colleagues will see this and help you out. This changes the relationships in ways that take the sting out of criticism.

    3) Understand at a deep level that it’s not about you. 99% of the time, it’s about the product. Again, that takes the sting out of the criticism. It’s not “I’m bad”, it’s “This doesn’t meet spec.”

    4) Find one good friend at work you can vent to. I understand others say not to, but most people will. Having someone my own level, with overlapping but slightly different roles, that I can vent to helps. Sometimes this person bops me in the head with a clip board and says “No! Bad! Don’t be a moron!” Honestly, I need it sometimes. But it’s also a way to understand you’re not alone. Sometimes just hearing someone else say “Yeah, that’s frustrating for me as well” is enough to take the edge off.

    1. TootsNYC*

      fresh out of school and are used to the mentality “criticism means lower grades means I could fail

      We really mess kids up with this mindset we push on them for so many years.

      1. Other Becky*

        As a university instructor, I was going to say pretty much exactly this. Criticism = lower grade = bad. I’ve had so many students make the same mistake on multiple consecutive assignments because they don’t want to look at my feedback.

  62. Dan*

    Oh, one other thing to avoid being a jerk at work:

    Never, ever, ever tell somebody in so many words “I think you’re wrong”. The minute you say that, the conversation is over, and you’re not going to be able to get across your points/get resolution to the issue. Yes, people are wrong or they make mistakes. There are just more diplomatic ways of saying that depending on the context and the players involved, but the phrase “I think you’re wrong” is about the worst thing you could ever say if you’re looking for resolution to something.

    1. Mrs. Krabapel*

      This is so important. A little diplomacy can go a long way in building positive relationships with your colleagues.

  63. TootsNYC*

    I wonder if it would benefit you to imagine or remember some mistakes that really made you bristle, and to mentally sit with that blame for awhile. Live with the anxiety–see how to manage it.
    Also “catastrophize” a bit–what is the worst that could happen from being blamed or corrected? Get ridiculous with it. And then also do a serious look back at the times you were corrected, and what worst aftermath was. Force some reality and some fantasy in there, and see if that lays a groundwork for your brain to use when a correction arises again.

    I theorize that this kind of reaction you’re talking about springs from anxiety. Anxiety is at the root of OCD, hoarding, and many other problem we have. There are tactics that can help OCD folks learn that the anxiety is not a -real- problem, but it a nasty trick your brain is playing on you.
    Therapy efforts (CBT being one of them) can help people learn to manage that anxiety and to be the ones in control.

    Also learn to forgive yourself. That may come with learning that others aren’t as harsh of judges as you think. But often we judge ourselves more harshly, and THAT is a hard thing to live with. I know whereof I speak; my worst days came from my own condemnation of myself–everyone around me was “making excuses” (actually, forgiving me) and I couldn’t see myself a human or worthy of forgiveness.
    My reaction to my self-criticism or self-condemnation was to heap more on; others’ might be to deflect that criticism. It’s a painful spot to be in; we all cope differently.
    If we can learn to forgive ourselves, that’s majorly freeing.

  64. Anon. Scientist*

    I have such a hard time with criticism. I’m far enough along that minor stuff doesn’t bother me, but real mistakes will just eat at me. I sometimes work in adversarial situations and I know that the other side is professionally picking at me and sometimes outrageous to see what they can get away with (thankfully, mostly in writing) and then the whole office will hear about it as I rail about how ridiculous they are and have to make multiple draft responses to cut out snark.

    When there was a management transition, the new manager showed me the old manager’s notes, which included one about how I should be handled carefully because i was over-sensitive to outside criticism… and I bristled up and insisted that was overblown and he laughed and laughed (he knows me too well). So I’m a work in progress. But even though I find it hard to control my immediate reaction, I do make it clear that I need to hear criticism and am good at clearing any involuntary bristling out and responding reasonably. I just need like, 10 seconds for my brain to kick on.

  65. Mid*

    For me, CBT (a type of therapy) along with mindfulness practices helped a lot. And intentionally putting myself into situations where I would be receiving critical feedback and responses (debate mostly) helped a lot.

  66. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Many of us have adjusted from this previous mindset, so first of all, have faith that you can change, especially since you have the desire to re-work your knee-jerk reactions.

    What has helped me is to always revisit the conversation within myself later, after the fire dies down and the indigence is put to the side. Remind yourself it’s rarely “personal” and most people are not being malicious, they are trying to be helpful!

    Journals have helped me a lot and having a community to speak with as well, one that’s diverse and isn’t afraid to also point out that I’m not right. You don’t want to be surrounded by the “yes” folks who will just stoke your flames of being upset by criticism.

    Understand that without fault, we don’t learn and we don’t grow. Being “perfect” and knowing “everything” is tiresome and a burden in the end. It leaves us with that hollow feeling towards others, who dare to have a different POV or take on our work or philosophies.

  67. Lauren*

    I struggle with this too, but I’m 15 years into my career. I have always distrusted bosses and authority due to past experiences so my default response is to question everything and think I’m somehow being used or gaslighted. This gets me in trouble since I am labeled combative for not immediately cowering like I did in my 20s. As a woman, I’m seen as the troublemaker too. I also still feel totally right in every one of my interactions that boil over, and I have come to realize that male leadership just don’t like to be called out on stuff. Case in point – I emailed a new CEO, and I got scolded for it by an SVP. The SVP tried to backpedal about why I needed X info, but I called him on that too. He said it was the CEOs call on X info – so I apologized as I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to email the CEO directly. Then SVP goes all ‘I never said you couldn’t email the CEO…’, so I went in further – ‘then I’m confused, what did I do wrong?’. He countered again ‘I never said you did anything wrong’. The real reason he was questioning me was that he didn’t think I – a low-level nobody – should be emailing the new CEO ever when even SVP didn’t have a relationship with the new CEO. I used his own words back at him, and watched him backpedal. Obviously, this attitude will make me his enemy – but we fake apologized to each other and moved on for now. It doesn’t matter if I cower or I say something, I am still a low-level nobody to some men no matter what I do. I might as well stand up for myself in the instances where I know I am right and I refuse to be played like that at work anymore.

    1. Allonge*

      I am sorry, that sounds tough. You should have options between cowering and taking everything as an offence though – this sounds like a terrible way to live your life to me!

      Genuine question: is it worth it? Is assuming every boss is by default your enemy and obviously gaslighting you? Is it worth it to question every single interaction? Is spending your whole workday in battle something you enjoy? I know some people thrive on conflict, it’s just very foreign to me.

      Don’t mistake me: there are bad bosses, bad coworkers, bad people, and you should stand up for yourself if someone attacks you. But, taking your example, there are plenty of workplaces where an employee cannot just email a CEO without their supervisor knowing. That does not mean that those employees are considered nobodies by the company or CEOs or their supervisors!

      1. Lauren*

        It’s not like I am constantly seething 24/7 waiting to pounce on all my bosses, but my default is not one of trust. Trust is earned for me, and I’ve had too many gaslighting / toxic nightmares for bosses that it takes awhile to gain that trust. Our CEO that is leaving, welcomed us to call / text / set up our own meetings with her – so we are not in an industry where that is the case. I truly think he was more upset that he hadn’t established his relationship with the new CEO yet and I was just starting a dialog. He often plays gatekeeper on a lot of things and never had my trust. I won’t ever need his help to get a promotion or anything since every year there is a new excuse why promotions and raises are frozen.

        1. Allonge*

          Thank you for answering! If it works for you, that is all that needs to be said.

          I just have such a difficulty seeing this attitude working for me as it would take so much energy (again, for me) to… I don’t know, keep measuring what my boss does and if it corresponds to my expectations. I am not saying that that is what you are doing, but that is what it would feel like to me, if that makes sense?

          And my approach has plenty of negatives as well, tending towards conflict avoidance is not a good solution.

          It sucks that you had such crappy bosses.

          1. Lauren*

            I did have a really awesome boss for a few years in this same org. He has said numerous times how on point I am when sussing out BS and that I had the highest level of emotional intelligence he has ever seen. He was never riled by my input or how I approached work or people. He actually used it to his advantage to gain the pulse of the office and how other leaders were perceived. It was really nice to know that I wasn’t crazy since he validated a lot of my conversations with other leaders as being something other than what was said out loud.

            I grew up in an emotionally abusive home – EQ is really just me trying to predict behavior so that I can avoid being screamed at. It is hard to let go of that fear. It is all done automatically so I don’t really notice it unless it boils over by me calling someone out on their ambitiousness – basically treating most conversations from certain people as not the whole truth.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          100% yes! Trust, with me must be earned.
          And I think you are right about SVP. He didn’t like that you had a “direct” line to the CEO when he did not. Because bypassing him means he has less power/control over the message.

          I hope things go well for you Lauren. This is an interesting discussion because so often I feel I’m alone or people think I’m the one with a “problem” because I’m not one to blindly ‘go along to get along’ in the workplace. Too many yes-men are also not a good thing because it stifles creativity and innovation.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I can relate a lot to you!
      I have a lot of interactions in the workplace that have a similar feeling or vein to them, and mostly (but not always) with men.

      As I got older and more confident, I now stand up for myself and don’t cower and willingly take blame for things I didn’t actually do the way I used to when younger. But it does not go over with certain types of people.

      It’s difficult to explain. Because I’m actually quiet and mostly friendly towards people, male or female. But when I come across a certain type, it’s often frustrating and passive-aggressive interactions like yours above where people will not come out and say why, in plain terms, they do or do not not want you doing “X.”

      In your example above, why couldn’t that SVP say:
      “I don’t want you contacting CEO about X info because you’re too low level to bother him with those requests.”
      Like, ok fine. Just say that first thing then.

      1. Lauren*

        Totally, I was using AAM’s ‘I’m confused’ to make him think about why he was concerned about me doing my job. I literally asked him first to clarify, I didn’t go to CEO at first. When SVP told me its CEO’s call, I talked to another guy who also said – his call. So both men were telling me its CEO’s call – I emailed CEO. Simple, but apparently not. Using their own words back at them is a great way to make men in power think. Instead of excusing or pretending i was in the wrong, I use the ‘i’m confused, and can you clarify that’ method – then I make them respond. I wait. I don’t need to fill in the silence, let them struggle to say it a different way that isn’t passive aggressive.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Yeah. I sort of had a feeling that maybe Allonge was reading your description somewhat incorrectly.
          Because I had no doubt you didn’t just email the CEO willy-nilly, or that you had a very good reason TO email the new CEO to ask, and also inquire what method they would prefer.

          And this is not about being right all the time or not accepting blame when you do make mistakes. I’m sure you also do that when it happens–maybe even too much so sometimes (or when you were younger you were probably always saying sorry or blaming yourself, right?).

          I find this feeling in the workplace difficult to articulate, and people often read it wrongly on this board too. Believe me, I have no wish to be insubordinate, unfriendly or difficult, and I’ll always try to help people with things. For the most part, I’ve gotten along with the majority of my managers and coworkers.

          But there is definitely a certain type of people that try to… I don’t know, take advantage, or try to make you become overly… obsequious, to a point you no longer have confidence in yourself or your abilities because they keep changing the rules and you’ll always be in the wrong with them as they play their passive aggressive little games.

          Maybe that strikes a cord with you?
          I’ve almost thought that maybe there is a certain type of person who was (or still is) sort of a bully inside but they hide it very well. And for some reason they seem to inherently sniff out people like us, who either were bullied at some point growing up, and/or may lack confidence as being weak or easy to manipulate. And what does a bully hate the most? The perceived weaker person standing up for themselves. They will hate you forever. And in the workplace, they are very adept at using what we call “workplace norms” to their advantage in hiding this tendency.

          1. Lauren*

            Completely strikes a cord with me. It is a bully mentality, because there are plenty of people that don’t do that. It’s subtle, but there. Those who have had bad bosses, bad childhoods, or just life experience that isn’t all roses and rainbows – can recognize it immediately.

    3. J.B.*

      I left a job because I knew the guy to be promoted to big boss would put a giant target on my back. Having gone through some therapy helped me recognize how some of my reactions go back to growing up with an alcoholic dad. From stuff this guy says about his father and his actions I wonder if he had the same growing up.

      I think your pushback as described seems totally reasonable. The SVP will likely continue to have a problem with you, but as long as you aren’t dealing with him directly he will hopefully respect you enough to give you space. You can manage for a while choosing your battles, but I hope you find a better workplace where this isn’t an issue!

      If you’ve never had therapy and can find/afford it, I would recommend making some appointments.

      1. Lauren*

        My therapist agrees most of my bosses are condescending jerks. She says my life is like a soap opera that she wants to scream back at. She gets frustrated on my behalf and says I’m probably right about all the things I see with my EQ, but I suck at being diplomatic about my responses. It doesn’t help me change my behavior to conform to society of ‘get along’, but its nice to have validation from an outside person and learn that my opinions and pov is valid and not wrong.

  68. Tow Mater*

    Because you say you are new to the workplace, be careful to not over-correct: don’t become a yes-to-everything person, or afraid to push back because you want to avoid being a jerk. You can be professional and courteous and a pleasant person to work with, without becoming a pushover.

    1. Tone & Timing. Many people have recommend taking time to give thoughtful responses. This is great advice. Also be aware that the tone you use is also important. Red-faced crying “That’s not fair!” will be perceived differently from a calm, eye contact making “That is not fair” – even though the words are the same, what you say next will be received better if you are calm.
    2. Listen to your Coworkers. Don’t interrupt. And don’t make every conversation an interaction where you are just waiting your turn to speak – acknowledge and listen to others. It should be a discussion, not simultaneous monologues by competing voices.
    3. When you have a problem, it helps to know what solution you want and also what solution would be acceptable. (I want my parking space back, versus, I want to park in the front row again)
    4. If someone asks you for something that is not your job/not your area of expertise, it is really nice if you would suggest someone who could help . Nothing is worse than asking someone for help resolve an issue and being told “that is not my job” – don’t create dead-ends.
    5. Network. Create connections with not just the people in your group, but those in groups you might tangentially work with.

    1. James*

      In my experience, #4 and #5 feed into each other. Providing opportunities for someone is a great way to show that you acknowledge their expertise and skill, and a great way to cultivate that relationship. They are more likely to send opportunities your way.

      It also presents you as someone who has their finger on the pulse of the organization–you’re someone who knows how to get things done, even if you can’t do it yourself directly. Again, not a bad way to get opportunities sent your way, including managing teams.

      This also falls under “make your boss’s job easier”, I think. You CAN simply say “That’s not my job”, but that leaves the boss to find someone who’s job it is. If you say “I can’t really help with that, but I know Sara can, let me shot her an email and cc you on it”, that means that the boss doesn’t have to spend time looking for someone to cover the workload. Someone who takes ownership of a problem and presents actionable solutions is someone the boss is going to come to rely on.

  69. NYWeasel*

    A really key thing that took me too long to learn in my own career is recognizing that even bad feedback gives you valuable insight in to your PR. In one of my reviews, my manager said “I consistently here that you are inflexible and unwilling to change, but I know you aren’t. So let’s focus on why people have that impression of you.” It turned out that I wasn’t really bringing people along the journey with me when I assessed ideas—just telling them where I ended up. I started saying things like “That’s an interesting idea, how would we adapt it for X constraint?” and letting the person who proposed the idea realize on their own that it wouldn’t work. After a reorg and what felt like a lifetime of insanity as we dealt with unending change, my manager told me that I was getting a promotion due to my amazing attitude towards change and how helpful I was to the rest of the department. I reminded her of the negative feedback and mentioned how I’d worked hard at it, and we were both shocked to realize I’d completely turned around my reputation in only one year!

    So you may get feedback that’s absolutely off…but if you look at it critically, you may find ways to communicate more effectively!

    1. Lauren*

      6 years later for my toxic ex-boss. I also realized that I jump 10 steps ahead seeing issues or problems that could arise, and people just don’t want to hear anything negative. I stopped saying stuff in meetings and told people that needed to know afterward. Unfortunately, if I bring it up myself – I’m told its not my job to question or think about X. But then my concerns get addressed in the background by someone who is allowed to question things, and I get no credit for preventing a problem that I saw coming. Though one person kept telling her boss about our conversations so I got some credit.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Ugh that’s a different factor that sounds frustrating to deal with. I still got credit for being helpful with my second approach, just avoided being perceived as being negative. Do you feel there’s anything gendered with why other people are allowed to question things or is it just a function of their titles? I’m female and I’ve definitely dealt with coworkers taking credit for my ideas, but with my example here, it was more about my own actions so I was able to change the result myself.

        1. Lauren*

          It is gendered, but also title-based – class or something. Like a clique of important people and only they are allowed to bring up things. Male leaders just hate anything negative as if you are questioning them, but its not. I can’t stop myself from caring at all.

  70. Echo*

    One specific thing I sympathized with from Tuesday’s letter was the letter writer’s frustration with having a manager who doesn’t know your specialty very well. It’s not something I’ve dealt with in my day-to-day work, but occasionally comes up with some atypical tasks I’ve worked on at various jobs. I’ve learned to stay open-minded and not always assume that someone truly doesn’t know what they’re talking about; sometimes they misspeak and sometimes they’ve actually anticipated the problem you’re raising. If I go in assuming good faith, I often do have my concerns addressed.

    Some examples:
    -Manager assigns you task that you know–or are pretty sure–is impossible: “Hmm, I haven’t actually made that kind of chart in Excel before. Let me do some research this afternoon to see how I could do that. [Later] OK, so Excel has this, this, and this type of chart, but not that. Do you have any recommendations?” or “OK, so it is possible to do this, but it will take me an extra 5 days to learn. Is it okay if we push this back?”
    -Manager states an incorrect fact about your specialty: I actually do think it’s possible to warmly say “oh, llamas and alpacas are actually different animals! They get confused all the time.”
    -Manager assigns you task that is possible but has serious security, ethics, etc. concerns: “Do you have any concerns about X?” or “My concern is X. Can we make a plan for what happens if that goes wrong?” or even “Hmm, I usually wouldn’t give the llama grooming clients free llama food because it opens us to liability when the llamas have allergies, like it did in the past with Old MacDonald’s llama. Is there something different this time that I don’t know about?”

    1. J.B.*

      It is frustrating but something worth getting used to. I have had to manage up with all the details everywhere I’ve worked. My biggest issue is when a boss just talks over me assuming he knows more about how to do it and won’t accept my process recommendations. That is something I should probably practice responding to.

  71. Koala dreams*

    There’s a difference in how you are supposed to respond to criticism in a school context and at work. In school, students are encouraged to explain their reasoning, and are rewarded with partial credit even when the final answer is wrong. I’m thinking of certain math teachers I’ve had, who would deduct points unless you wrote out all the calculations in-between the question and the answer. At work, people are more concerned that you fix the wrongs and make sure to do right next time. It’s the result that matters, not intent. My advice to you as a student would be to take care to notice the differences between work and studies, so you don’t let bad habits learnt in class stand in your way. Be prepared to watch and learn.

  72. angstrom*

    I find it helps to take the “you” and “your” out of criticism of other’s work when you can. Instead of “your presentation” or “your formula”, use “I think the presentation would be more effective…” or “When I tried the formula I got a different result…” Focus on the work, not the person. If you model that behavior with others you’ll eventually start seeing it be used with you.

    Always always always give credit to other folks for their contributions and ideas. They’ll learn to do the same for you.

    Sometimes when I get angry at criticism it’s because I know they’re right, and I’m actually angry at myself for not doing a better job.

    A lot of criticism stems from honest misunderstandings — “I didn’t know you wanted that level of detail” — rather than poor effort or skill. Try to understand that and take the initiative to understand the expectations before you start, or check in before the work is complete: “Hey, let me run this draft by you to make sure it’s heading the way you want.’

  73. GS*

    Imagine what it would feel like to tell that feedback to a (maybe future) subordinate. Picture having to say those words to someone else, and how that would feel to you. Then think about the person giving you that feedback probably having those emotions.

  74. nnn*

    A bit of an alternative approach, which will work for some personalities (and you’ll know for yourself whether you’re one of them):

    Imagine your boss is writing your performance review, and wants to be able to say “Jane accepts criticism well and takes responsibility,” but she needs evidence to back it up.

    All you have to do is provide that evidence.

    You don’t have to actually change your attitude and personality and outlook – that’s hard! All you have to do is perform. Act just like a person who accepts criticism well and who takes responsibility (and not act like someone who bristles at criticism and deflects blame) with enough frequency that your boss can justify putting it in your performance review.

  75. Cedrus Libani*

    People get defensive about criticism of their work because it feels like an attack on themselves. You may have invested your ego in your ability to do good work, and here comes some %$#@ who thinks your work is deficient (therefore you are deficient). It’s natural to bristle at being told that you suck as a person, even if that’s only what you heard, not what was actually said or intended.

    You have three choices. You can learn to separate the work from the self that does the work. You can get a job that requires no autonomy of any kind, such that your self never gets involved at all. Or you can be miserable. I suggest Door #1. I’ve tried all three.

    Here’s an analogy that’s helped me. You are the instrument, not the music. You are the collection of skills and talents that can bring a song to life – but you are not that song. If a song doesn’t work, learn what you can from it, but don’t worry. Even the best instrument can play a bad song.

    If this is something you struggle with, I would suggest reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He refers to this mental work as “going pro”. That’s what it is. The amateur gets caught up in their ego, making all sorts of unforced errors. The pro sits down and does the work, focusing on what is within their control – process, not outcomes.

  76. Betsy S*

    I’m a huge fan of mindfulness meditation. Among many other benefits, it helps me find that space between action and reaction where I can choose how to respond, and it helps me be a better listener

  77. Cathie from Canada*

    The longer you work in a particular office, the easier it becomes to start seeing new people and new ideas with a jaundiced eye. So this may not be a concern to OP just now, but I always felt it was important to try to never become the Office Curmudgeon — you know, the person who responds to every new idea or initiative with “We tried that back in 2006 and it doesn’t work!”
    It may be true, of course, but as a habitual response it is not endearing, and gives you a reputation as a roadblock to managers trying to make improvements.

  78. foolofgrace*

    Remind yourself that It’s Not Personal. It’s business. When I was younger and in a difficult employment situation I often got out of sorts at things that happened to me or about my work. Now that I’m older that doesn’t happen much anymore … because I recognize it’s not personal. If they need you [me] to act a certain way, it’s easier to just do it and let it roll off my back. Take it as the course correction it is, not a personal vendetta.

  79. agnes*

    Sometimes I think the college environment exacerbates this kind of behavior. We are encouraged at school to debate, disagree,and show how much we know about the topic. The important difference between school and work is that, at school, everyone you are debating with is your peer and starts in general with the same knowledge base about the topic. (except the prof, whose job it is to teach critical thinking).
    In the workplace, not everyone is your peer. There are people there who know more about the business operations, about the culture and history, and about the subject matter than you do. Listen and thoughtfully consider what is said, and be polite in your responses. Come from a position of wanting to grow rather than being defending your status quo.

  80. Lindsay Gee*

    I had a very toxic job for about a year that led to some pretty negative thinking around this that I’m still working on today (3 yrs later). Basically my boss was your typical toxic boss: everything I did was wrong, any explanation I gave was an excuse, write-ups for every little thing, threats of firing/write-ups etc. anytime I made an error in my personal or professional life going forward, I beat myself up because I should have known better, there were x # of things i should have done differently etc. It’s definitely importnat to be self-reflective on what you can improve and when you mess up, but to add to what other commenters have said, don’t go too far in the other direction. Be introspective, do what you need to do to fix something if necessary and learn from it, but don’t dwell on it and be hypercritical of yourself all the time- because I think that is also unhelpful.

  81. Scott*

    Take constructive criticism and look at why they are saying that in regards to your work, and not personally. If something is wrong, ask why they do it the other way and ask how you can not make that mistake moving forward.

    Being able to accept that you will make mistakes in your work and use those to improve your quality of work will not be looked down on. Someone owning an issue and looking for ways to improve will be highly appreciated.

  82. Not For Academics*

    A couple of folks have touched on, but no one has said this directly, I think.

    It doesn’t matter.

    It doesn’t matter why you did it wrong, or who did it wrong, or why you thought you were right, or who did what. Arguing (“explaining”) yourself is a waste of (your manager’s) time, and makes people think you’re annoying, defensive, and whiny.

    Just say, “okay thank you” and do it right next time. Really, it’s just about the result – not you.

    1. James*

      Just….don’t take this too far. Sometimes the manager is the one that’s wrong. I remember going toe-to-toe against my boss’s boss’s boss once, on a technical issue. He insisted X was true, I insisted Y was. When I was able to point to the page in the manual that stated I was right, he immediately switched to “Okay, how do we address this known issue?” mode.

      My point is, sometimes you DO need to stand up for your views. Sometimes your boss ISN’T right. The key is knowing when to do it. In my line of work, if its a personal preference I don’t argue, but if it’s a question of fact I do (after making sure to the best of my abilities that I AM right). In other lines of work, where personal style is more relevant, things may be different; I’ve always worked with scientists and engineers, so I can’t speak to that.

      Another lesson from that: never expect an apology from the higher-ups. They’re nice to get, but mostly they’ll accept that what you were saying is true and operate from that without saying anything about the former disagreement. It’s business, nothing personal.

    2. Confused*

      What about when a process outside your immediate control led you to make the error?

      E.g. Bob’s job is to do A. Joel does B to support Bob. Tiffany keeps C and D under control so that Joel can do B. Bob has difficulty doing A because Joel isn’t doing B well and suspects that it’s because Tiffany needs to change how she does C and D. Bob’s manager yells at him for messing up A. What is the correct action?:

      1. Bob takes full blame, does not explain at all, and works with Tiffany without his manager’s knowledge or involvement to fix the issue.
      2. Bob takes full blame, does not explain at all, but makes a comment that he will work with Tiffany to fix the error.
      3. Bob explains the full situation and lets his manager know that he will work with Tiffany to fix it, and/or the manager helps Bob work with Tiffany.

      #1 seems unfair to Bob, especially if Tiffany or Joel make a lot of errors, since it will make his manager think Bob is error-prone.
      #2 seems confusing or deflective on Bob’s part without full context given.
      #3 takes more of the manager’s time but gives the manager full context and lets him know that Tiffany or her position might be the weak link.

      1. James*

        Your hypothetical describes my average work day. I can’t do most of the work (I’m not certified in it), so I manage the teams that do. If something goes sideways, the boss doesn’t go to the team–they come to me, saying “Why is X not ready yet? Our schedule needs X to happen tomorrow!”

        If you don’t know the answer, you say “I don’t know, I’ll contact X and find out.” Then–and this is more important than people realize–CONTACT X AND FIND OUT. Failure to do that degrades your credibility far faster than people think. I’ve seen it get people kicked off projects permanently.

        If you DO know the answer, tell them. “X isn’t done because a llama ate the hose on the machine, and the replacement part will be in on Wednesday.” This lets the boss know you’re aware of the problem, have already looked for solutions, and have a time table so they can adjust their schedule. If it takes time, well….things take time. A good manager will understand that this is a synopsis, and that the real answer is much, MUCH longer. (Caveat: If the answer is “I told you that three times, it’s not my fault you lost the memos I sent you”, don’t say that!! Say “Oh, I thought I gave that to you already; here, let me send it now.”)

        Don’t get me wrong–it’s never fun. There are days where I feel like my job is to be the whipping boy for the office. At the same time, this is the price you pay for moving into a more managerial position. You get more responsibility and less capacity to physically do the work. And there’s a thrill to it. I’m managing multiple teams on multiple projects, keeping all these balls in the air, and have my fingers in every project in my area. No two days are the same, and I’m constantly dealing with new situations and new problems to solve.

  83. Solitary Daughter*

    It also helps who you’re wrong in front of. Is the person giving you feedback or correction a solid coworker/manager/customer? Can you trust their perspective in other areas. Then they might be on to something. It’s true that it’s your manager’s job to provide that feedback, but in the case of where else you might be hearing something they’re taking pains to help you, or improve something. Honor that by taking some time with what they told you. Maybe they’re wrong/right. But they gave you something to consider that’s intended to make your life better. When someone you deal with is unreasonable, it becomes a different processing strategy, I think. A lot of the advice up above is great.

  84. Tired*

    I recently parted ways with a company where my boss was absolutely miserable at giving criticism which also made it hard to take the criticism productively. I am very good (almost to a fault) at recognizing when I have messed up. No one knows before I do, and rest assured that I’ve already mentally called myself every flavor of incompetent while working out a plan to fix the error before anyone even approaches me with “hey you screwed up.” This has been very attractive to managers at previous jobs for obvious reasons. But my boss at the job I just left liked taking advantage of my hyper-self-awareness to use me as a punching bag.

    “HEY you messed up X” “Yes, I messed up X because of Y, I am doing Z to fix X.” “Oh so you thought doing X that way was a good idea?” “No, it was an error, I’m doing Z now.” “Why didn’t you do Z to begin with?” “X hadn’t been a problem yet so Z wasn’t necessary.” “Uh huh. Still confused why you did X that way.” “Because of Y.” “I don’t care about your excuses!”

    It was hard to really take anything away from those convos other than self-loathing. Usually he would think he made some clear point though and then would come at me several months later like “You never did A” “You never told me to do A” “I made it pretty clear in that convo about you messing up X” “???”

    And, you know, he was a shrieking, yelling, cursing-in-your-face screamer (not exaggerating, I thought the man was going to hit me multiple times though he never did) who thought telling people “you’re shit!” was good managing.

  85. Jennifer Eight Thousand and Seventeen*

    At the other end of the spectrum from criticism and blame are praise and gratitude, and they can be equally hard to learn to accept gracefully. When someone thanks you for doing something, simply say, “You’re welcome.” The office jerk might say “Oh, it was nothing” (false modesty) or “I was awesome, wasn’t I?” (arrogant bravado). Acknowledge the thanks in a simple way and express a desire to continue to be helpful.

    I learned at some seminar that when asked the secret of their success, great leaders don’t look in the mirror, they look out the window (to their team/department/company). Make it a point to express how others contribute to your success: “Great sales pitch you made there!….Thanks, the training I got from Fergus was really valuable.” “These reports are much improved from past ones!…Thanks, it’s great to hear that the new categorization system that Lucinda and I worked on is paying off.” People notice when when you accept responsibility for mistakes but go out of your way to share the credit for success. It’s fine to be proud of your achievements, but always keep in mind how others helped.

  86. OrigCassandra*

    Something I haven’t seen yet: If there’s a situation or person that reliably causes a less-than-great response in you, think through, write out/memorize, and practice an initial script for responding to it. This helps me respond appropriately even when I’m hopping mad, adrenaline-flooded, defensive, or shamed.

    Deciding in advance what I should say reduces the load on my brain in a moment when I really, really need less load. The only trick to it, and for me at least it’s a small one, is ensuring you sound sincere and not rote when you use your script — this is part of what the practice is for.

    1. anon for this*

      This. I work in a team with 22 other people. I get along well with 20 of them, can deal with one of them in short doses, and then there’s that last one, who is sometimes a problem for sure but sometimes it’s just the personality difference. Practicing in advance how to tell them specifically and kindly that I need to see better work from them, and trying to avoid making it into my typical internal reaction of “you are always so (adjective) and I’m sick of it” has been a huge help.

  87. LQ*

    Cultivate strong relationships with those who DO criticize, and tell them that. I have a couple people who will 100% call me out when it needs to happen. Having these people around you will give you more practice and you’ll need it less on behavior and more on ideas.

    I work with someone who one of our first interactions was her telling me to back off and let her do her job and stop getting in the middle. I was thrilled beyond words. (Before then it was always a place I’d had to step in to do that work so I was thrilled to not have to do it.) And I told her and continue to tell her. Every time she does it I thank her.

    The more people you can get around you, the more practice you get, the more likely you are to not do it and if you do to have people who call you a jerk when you are being one.

    I think if you plan to never be a jerk you’re more likely to become one than if you assume you behave jerkily occasionally and do the best you can to prevent it and stop it and come back from the moments. Assume you’ll have moments and keep on top of brushing off the moments. (Dont’ brush off others, brush off yourself and keep trying to be better and kinder.)

  88. Bopper*

    1) Another thing to do is: Pick your battles.
    When younger, I fought too hard for something not that important, but also did the opposite…gave up fighting on something that the customer would be affected by.
    If you fight about everything, then people tend to dismiss you because they don’t know what is important to you.

    2) Also, if you are young employee, keep this in mind. The age you are is the oldest you have ever been in your life. You are the most mature you have every been. You have the most knowledge and experience you have ever had.
    BUT…there are many other people who may be older than you have have more experience. They have more knowledge on why something might work. They have more familiarity of the politics in getting something done.

    3) There may not be a dumb question, but there may be a dumb time and place to ask it. If you think all the teapots should be square because they would more easily fit in a box, ask some one if they have talked about it before and have a discussion of the tradeoffs between square and round teapots. Don’t just go in and say “Round teapots are dumb, we should do square.” And then try to learn why your idea wasn’t chosen and don’t pout.

  89. Kisses*

    Personally I think one should always work a service job before going into the professional workforce. It’s hard to be entitled when you see how people treat those they think of lower than themselves. You also have a chance to interact with wonderful customers and coworkers- some of whom might not have a chance to advance to a higher position and maintain a bit of humbleness.
    There is also nothing better for learning not to take things too personally, and for being a team player.

    1. AGD*

      I worked at a dollar store when I was in my teens. It did wonders in terms of never taking retail workers, or anyone, for granted.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. I hate this advice. We must learn to respect each other without having to do these kinds of jobs. These jobs are HARD and not everyone is cut out for them. MANY people aren’t cut out for them.

      By saying “Everyone” should do them at least once, you say these jobs can indeed be done by anyone. They cannot. Many people are fired from these positions.

      Just about everyone works at an entry level position at some point though, that’s the real point. Climb ladders, don’t just think you start out at the top.

  90. Anon4this*

    For me, the issue was false entitlement. I made several decisions along the way in my educational career that involved me deciding to try something that looked considerably more challenging than the alternatives (I got into multiple colleges, and picked the one that a lot of people advised me was the “tough school” on my list). While I don’t regret this – I loved college! – I picked up the notion along the way that by not taking any supposed “easy way out,” I had more than shown I could handle any job and “earned” opportunities. When I was interviewed and given a form letter in response, I reacted very badly and sent them a letter asking what on Earth they thought they were doing. What they were doing, of course, was making the best decision for their workplace. I was self confident, but I was not the best qualified and/or best suited for the position. I am still self confident, but I hope I’ve left behind my tendency to get downright arrogant. Accepting that no one owes me anything (beyond, you know, basic respect and decency) was a big help for me.

  91. Van Wilder*

    Look into “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset.” I was raised with a fixed mindset (like many of us) so any criticism or failure would cause me to implode, as it’s clearly a reflection on who I am as a person (not smart enough, not tough enough, etc…) But I’ve been working for the last couple years on shifting to a growth mindset and taking feedback as exactly what it is: a normal part of the process of improving. My first reaction is still to get defensive or make excuses, but my second reaction is to listen, process, and learn.

    It would be sad if I were the same person now that I was 10 years ago, just as it would be sad if I were the same person 10 years from now that I am now. The only way to improve is to make mistakes.

  92. ReadyNPC3*

    I think the best thing that has helped me in the working world is to know that there will always be someone better then you at whatever it is you are doing and that’s not a bad thing. Once that lesson was grounded in, I found myself less worried about mistakes, more willing to take criticism, and way less competitive. I don’t find competition in the work place as a very productive tool. It just divides people and prevents a team from coalescing around a goal.

    The big problem I find myself in now days is reconciling my ethics and morals with those of the company’s. I know I am overzealous at times (I find sales to be ethical questionable at times. No means no yall), but it’s super hard to stomach when a company highlights the bottom dollar over it’s employees.

  93. Djuna*

    I had a conversation last year with someone at work who was extremely upset and “shocked” (their word) at our grandboss being “unprofessional” (again, their word) with her in a meeting. That sounded odd to me so I asked what had happened. Co-worker had made a suggestion, and grandboss listened then asked for them to write it up in an email and send it to them.
    That was it.
    There was nothing else.
    So I had to explain how grandboss is a senior director and likes to have things written down to refer to. They asked for an email so they would have that info to hand because (a) they liked the idea, (b) they intended following up on it, (c) they wanted to note where the idea came from, and (d) they wanted to be sure of having all the details correct.

    I thought of this when I read the original letter this week. And that led to me thinking about how sometimes people can’t see the other side of something because they’re too busy being indignant about a perceived slight (that was actually a compliment!). Context is everything.

    My other valuable go-to when asked for advice is that if someone is being a jerk in email/on Slack/in a meeting, you often don’t have to respond at all. If there are other people involved, they are also seeing that person being a jerk/trying to deflect blame/getting ridiculously heated and sometimes it’s best just to leave that hanging without a reply…because you don’t have to engage but also because egregious behavior sometimes just needs to be left hanging out in the sunlight for all to see.

  94. Oh Behave!*

    You say this, “I see the tendency inside myself to bristle at criticism and deflect blame, and though I’m able to manage it outwardly/in communication with my coworkers and superiors, …”. I suggest you take a very frank assessment to determine if you really do manage this well. You can do this by monitoring your tone of voice as well as expressions. People know if you think they are stupid not only by words but tone and facial expressions. I don’t mean to suggest you don’t know yourself. We often don’t realize we’ve used a tone or grimace. I am guilty of this myself at times.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      ah yes. You can have someone film you during a discussion then watch, sound off. You really get to see every little twitch or eyebrow raising as you attempt to smother a smirk, and realise it’s pretty obvious after all.

      Then you need to convince yourself that the other person is in good faith. You can always thank people for expressing opposite opinions. It means that communication channels are up and running, and there’s an opportunity to discuss the matter instead of sweeping it under the carpet. It means the other person trusts you with their opinion, and thinks you worthy of hearing it. They’re giving you a chance to understand them and their POV. How much worse would things be if people didn’t speak up?
      Even when their POV is completely zany, it’s better that they say it. Even when there’s just no bridging the gap or coming up with a compromise, it’s better that they say it. Remember diversity is important. Diversity isn’t just a matter of skin colour or cultural background.

      In the NGO I volunteer at, we’re all into active listening and empathy and stuff with the people we are trying to help. Then you invite a dozen volunteers to a committee meeting to discuss the future of the NGO and we’re all at each other’s throats. The joke is “what’s the difference between a pitbull and a Rebel’sNGO volunteer? – At some point, the pitbull lets go”. This staying power is great when it comes to helping people who are fragile. The kind of person to volunteer with us is typically somebody who’s had to go against the grain to get what they need in life. Feisty fits the bill perfectly. Put ten feisty women with strong convictions and a rebellious streak in the same committee and watch the fireworks! We always have to remind each other that we need to be kind to each other, remember where we are all coming from and remember that the others are in good faith even if we disagree over policy.

  95. Sparkles McFadden*

    In the short term:
    – As others have said, try not to react in the moment.
    – Get some perspective and look at your situation as if you are an outside observer. I like to think about how I’d like to look on a video later on. It sounds silly but it works and it always stops me before I say something I’d wish unsaid.
    – If you find a particular coworker to be triggering, try replaying anything that coworker says in your head using the voice of a friendly colleague. This also sounds ridiculous, but it always worked for me.

    In the long term, you need to examine why certain things (or people) hit your hot buttons. In my early work life, I found that the people who set me off the most were people who had traits that I recognized in myself and that I did not like. They’d remind me of my own flaws and I did not care for that at all. This type of self-examination was always uncomfortable but extremely constructive. Of course some people are just irritating, but, you can’t control them so you need to learn to control yourself.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “If you find a particular coworker to be triggering, try replaying anything that coworker says in your head using the voice of a friendly colleague.”
      Yes this is great, it helps you identify the BEC mode and gets you out of it and back into a reasonable frame of mind.

  96. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I used to get irritated by relatively small things and I sometimes showed it at work or talked about it. I had a manager who asked me to not react when these things happened and try to ignore it. I did, and was quite surprised to find the irritation passes in a few minutes!
    Now if I feel annoyed or irritated by some relatively small thing I don’t react in the moment. I wait a while and see if I still think it was important. If so, then I think about appropriate ways to address it. But almost always I realize it wasn’t important. The other person is stressed or distracted and that’s all it is. :)

  97. Jeffrey Deutsch*

    An assortment of social tools:

    First and foremost, never, ever lord it over someone else when they agree to do things your way. Banish “It took you long enough!” “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” and the like from your vocabulary.

    Say “Please” and “Thank you” a lot.

    “It depends” is your best friend. Like “It depends on what you mean by X….” or “It depends on what you want to accomplish….”

    Someone you disagree with can have a good point, or be speaking from good intentions, without necessarily being right.

    (Speaking of which, assume good intentions on the other person’s part — at least out loud. Stretch if you have to. “I appreciate your not wanting me to face a mountain of work when I get back from vacation. But if you could just please Cc: me on all emails affecting me while I’m out, that will actually make it easier for me. Thank you!”)

    Someone you disagree with can be right for other kinds of occasions — even 99% of the time — without necessarily being right this time.

    Someone you disagree with can be right with regard to a particular fact or a particular goal, without necessarily being right with regard to the ultimate outcome or how to achieve the goal.

    Someone you disagree with can be making a mistake, without necessarily being rude, lazy, evil, etc. (Bonus: Mistakes are much more easily verifiable — not to mention fixable — than character flaws.)

    If you have to address unpleasant or undesirable behavior on someone’s part, do it privately please. (And rarely should it be done anonymously — you generally don’t know the other side of the story.)

    Last but not least…be careful assuming what the other person knows. That goes double when the knowledge in question is about what you want or what you meant. Remember the knowledge curse…when we know something, it’s easy to mistakenly assume others know it too.

  98. Erin*

    The fact that you have asked this question speaks volumes about your high level of self awareness, and how you are perceived by others. That’s not easy for anyone at any age.

    The best advice I can give any young person on how to act in a business environment is the same as I would give a more experienced person: Your reactions to situations/people will determine your reputation. Also, listen more than you speak. You might not be the fastest or best at Thing X with Company Y. But, if you handle yourself with grace and treat people with respect, it will be impossible for anyone to have a negative thing to say about you.

  99. LizM*

    I have a friend who used to fight tooth and nail with her in-laws, until a therapist taught her the mantra, “Not every comment needs a response.”.

    Sometimes, when I’m feeling myself get cranky at work, I’ll repeat that to myself. If I’m not sure how to react without defensiveness and anger, I’ll say, “Thank you for the feedback. I need some time to think about it before I respond. Can we pick this up this afternoon, or tomorrow?”

    Thanking them for the feedback either helps me reframe to myself that oftentimes, people really are trying to help. Or if they really are just being jerks, responding graciously just makes me look like the reasonable one and they look like more of a jerk. And then taking a pause gives me a chance to collect my thoughts and respond the way I want to respond, rather than just reacting.

  100. Jennifer Juniper*

    At this stage, OP, I assume you’re in a junior role.

    Remember that the workplace is not a democracy. When you are junior to someone, you have no standing to tell them what to do. You have to obey them unless their requirements violate the law or company policy. It doesn’t mean you’re personally inferior to them. It means you’re lower in the hierarchy.

    Rank hath its privileges, OP.

    Never have an opinion unless you’re asked for one. And make sure you display engagement and buy-in with the boss’ ideas. You will be expected to do this, even if your company pretends to value candor. They do not expect you to tell the truth.

    Finally, don’t forget to smile.

    Yes, I am being serious.

  101. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Exercise empathy, always.
    Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see their point of view. Try to find reasons for their point of view.
    Tell yourself that they are as human as you are, that their experiences have shaped them just as your experience has shaped you.
    Imagine that everything you say or write will be reported to the world on Twitter or whatever.
    Imagine that everyone you talk to is part of a disadvantaged minority and needs to be handled with care.
    Remind yourself that they are not doing whatever they are doing at you.
    Remind yourself that they may have information or previous experiences informing their outlook that you know nothing of.
    Treat everyone as if they were having a terrible day, because you know nothing of whatever demons they are dealing with.
    Never judge anybody only their actions. Be careful that your language reflects this mindset at all times.
    If you think something is ridiculous, ask probing questions rather than make damning remarks.
    Respect everyone.

    (This is how I was taught to interact with the people I support in the NGO I volunteer at. The results were so amazing I realised that almost everyone will react positively to this kind of attitude).

  102. working on it*

    Learn how to apologize well. And not need any particular response in return. Life & work give us plenty of opportunities to practice! Internal frustration leaks out. When in the wrong, apologize sincerely as soon as it’s appropriate. It allows you to move on from your mistakes and repairs the damage you did. If practiced consistently you will learn to defuse your own reactions before you have to regret them.

    There are great mantras & ideas posted here that can correct wrong-headed thinking in the moment. Find a half dozen or so that really do that for you. Post one or two where your eyes will find them throughout the day — in your planner, on your phone lock screen, on your computer desktop, next to your office phone.

    Need to take yourself off your own high horse? Remember that every single person you will ever meet knows something you don’t know.

    Tendency to turn your attack inward & spiral negative if you can’t deflect? Cut yourself some slack once in a while & forgive your mistakes. We do this ALL the time for other people and we should do it for ourselves too. Just as soon as there’s nothing left to gain or learn by dwelling, move on.

    You’ve started on self-awareness. Keep going. Learning why you have certain tendencies can help you to short circuit them & eventually to be free of them. You have a much better chance of changing something if you understand it forward & backward, inside & out.

    We are talking about work here, right? Results are what your boss & company care about. Lots of employees deliver results without being a royal PIA. Practice being the no-hassle employee who just gets the work done. Your boss will be delighted. And guess what? It’s a lot more pleasant for you too AND you get paid while you do it.

    Identify better professional responses to criticism & blame, deserved & undeserved. Look for examples of true character & professional behavior here, not sarcasm or repartee. Emulate & imitate.

    Sometimes it’s not you: You never have to stay at any job forever. Learn to recognize when a job just isn’t the right fit. Leaving a job can always be done ethically at least on your part, usually gracefully too. You might need to mourn a little especially if leaving what you thought was your dream job. But it is a real mistake to hide from the truth of it because you wish things were different. Plan your exit & take the necessary steps to get to the next job. You will wonder why you waited so long.

    There’s SO much wisdom in the reader comments. Find the tools that work for you & give you real results. Then just keep at it. Need new tricks? Print out all the comments here & use as reference forever.

  103. PuppyBabyMommy*

    Read Mindset by Carol Dweck! It’s all about adopting a growth mindset which will help you see criticism as an opportunity to learn rather than a personal attack.

  104. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I’m also young in the workforce (the job I have now is my first job, and I graduated law school in 2018). I basically make a conscious effort to say or think constructive stuff to myself. Stuff like, “No one likes to find out they’re doing something wrong, but I can’t fix it if I don’t know that there’s a problem.” Or, “Criticism of my work isn’t criticism of me as a person, and it doesn’t mean I’m less worthy of love and respect.” I say these things to myself even if I don’t feel them at the time. Basically it orients my brain in the general direction of feeling that way, even if I’m not all the way there yet.

  105. OHCFO*

    The advice I wish I could have heard early in my career—just because you’re really really smart and maybe more educated & better read than your colleagues doesn’t mean you always have all the answers. In the rearview I can see now that my belief in the superiority in my technical expertise clouded my ability to see a) the value of the context & lessons learned those who had been around the org longer than me and b) that I didn’t always have to be “right”. Exercising patience and grace will never almost never be the wrong way to go.

  106. MissM*

    Treat people like you want to be treated, including making sure that you’re being proactive in communication. Check in on yourself to make sure that you’re not being a hypocrite about it. And if you say you’re fine with cruddy treatment yourself as justification, treat people like you’d want them to treat your [insert loved one here].

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