How to accept tough criticism at work without taking it personally

two coworkers talking
Criticism can be difficult to hear, but applying it can help you advance your career.

  • Executive coach Melody Wilding helps people navigate their careers and find work-life balance.
  • For sensitive people, she says receiving criticism at work can be upsetting and feel like a personal attack.
  • To cope with criticism, Wilding suggests following these five steps to process the feedback.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

No one likes criticism about their work. But being hypersensitive to criticism can feel like a burden you constantly carry.

Whether you’re getting input about how a slide deck could be improved, hearing that leadership isn’t on board with your idea, or otherwise speaking up and putting yourself out there – it can be difficult to separate a person’s response from your own self-worth.

Throughout your career, you’ll always be given feedback in some form or another. Learning to cope with criticism is a key part of professional (and personal) growth, and when processed productively, can actually boost your confidence and be extremely valuable for advancing your career.

That’s not to say, though, that it can’t be extremely uncomfortable or even upsetting: You put your all into your work and take pride in your efforts, so when you’re criticized, it can really sting.

Negative feedback tends to hit Sensitive Strivers especially hard. Because we process everything more deeply, we end up taking people’s opinions personally – seeing it as a failure or indictment on our professional aptitude and capabilities. When we get negative feedback or someone throws a comment our way, we have an intense reaction to it.

Why you’re so sensitive to criticism

It’s important to understand that as a Sensitive Striver, you are wired differently.

According to research, about 15 to 20% of the population has a genetic trait that leads to a highly calibrated nervous system. This explains why things affect you more profoundly than they might someone else.

Research also shows that Sensitive Strivers have more active mirror neurons, which means you are naturally more perceptive and attuned to your surroundings.

But as a result, you might spend more time monitoring and analyzing other people’s behavior. This vigilance can render you overly preoccupied with external approval and others’ thoughts and opinions, or cause you to read into situations more easily – sending you down an intense emotional spiral.

Nevertheless, thinking deeply is a tremendous strength. That is, as long as you have tools to harness your superpowers effectively.

A simple exercise to deal with negative feedback at work

When on the receiving end of criticism, it’s essential that you separate criticism of the message from criticism of you as the messenger.

It’s important to avoid what authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone call “wrong spotting” – where we go on the defensive and fall down an anger spiral that can leave us distracted and depleted.

Besides, there can be a lot of value in criticism especially when it’s delivered constructively. You want to avoid your emotions getting the better of you, and blinding you from all that there is to learn from the person’s comments.

There’s one simple exercise I give my coaching clients that helps them parse helpful feedback from that which can be left behind. It also helps them slow down their own reaction so that they can think clearly and be in control of how they respond to the feedback instead.

Here’s how the exercise works:

1. Take a sheet of paper and split it into four columns

It’s best if you do this on hard copy versus a computer, as studies show handwriting is more cathartic. It forces your brain to be more deliberate and also serves a pattern interrupt (since you likely spend most of your day typing).

2. In the first column, write down the exact feedback

Transcribe what the person said, word for word. Use their exact phrasing and do not layer your interpretation on top of it. Remain as objective and fact-based as possible.

3. In the second column, list everything that’s wrong with the feedback

This is your chance to let it all out – your anger, frustration, insecurity. Mention inaccuracies, blindspots, and errors in the feedback. Don’t hold back.

4. In the third column, list what might be right about the feedback

This is where you start your mindset. Begin to broaden your perspective and consider where the other person might be coming from. Are there helpful improvements within the criticism they shared, for example? A new discovery or opportunity? What can you learn or take away from the information they’ve shared with you?

5. In the fourth column, commit to taking action

Note down your next steps. This may be having a follow-up conversation to clear the air, making a correction, or simply letting it go and moving on with your day.

This exercise provides structure so that you can process feedback in a more balanced way, get back to equilibrium faster, and take constructive steps forward.

Remember, receiving criticism is a fact of life and it can really bring you down if you let it. By having tools to process it you’ll be able to recover more quickly and shine like the competent professional you are.

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12 reasons being a highly sensitive person is an asset in the workplace

office worker
Highly sensitive people tend to impress others with their attention to detail.

  • Executive coach Melody Wilding helps people navigate their careers and find work-life balance.
  • She says that highly sensitive people should use their sensitivity to their advantage at work.
  • Their diplomacy, critical thinking skills, self awareness, and intuition make them great employees.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), navigating your career can be challenging.

Common workplace situations that may be moderately stressful to others – like speaking in meetings or getting feedback (even over Zoom these days) – can quickly overstimulate you. In fact, studies show that workers with sensory processing sensitivity (the trait’s scientific name) tend to experience more stress than their less-sensitive peers.

In addition to being more sensitive to stimuli, HSPs process information more deeply and thoroughly. So it’s not uncommon to overthink decisions, beat yourself up for working more slowly than others, or judge yourself for not being gregarious and outspoken.

High sensitivity in the workplace

As a coach to highly sensitive professionals, I frequently see clients struggle with self-doubt and imposter syndrome that results from being in the minority. Only about 20 percent or so of the population is highly sensitive (meaning they have a more responsive nervous system), so it’s no wonder you feel different – because you are.

But “different” is not bad; thinking and feeling deeply isn’t a defect. You see, your sensitive qualities, when channeled productively, can be your career superpowers. The research proves it: managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as their top contributors. That’s because HSPs are thoughtful, conscientious, empathetic, and dedicated, all of which make them ideal employees and leaders.

The key to using your high sensitivity as a strength at work comes down to self-acceptance and confidence. Stepping into your power requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are both rare and valuable, particularly in today’s business world where incivility seems to reign.

Plus, as work becomes more automated, the need for professionals like you – ones with natural intuition and creativity – has never been more crucial. Your abilities can never be replicated by technology.

It’s time that your highly sensitive self fully leverages your unique gifts and brings a refreshing set of contributions to the table. Here’s how.

12 superpowers HSPs bring to the workplace

Stepping into your power as an HSP at work requires you to recognize that your innate qualities are rare and in demand – and to know the value that gives you.

1. You’re diplomatic when it matters most

As a highly sensitive person, you think longer and more deliberately before speaking. This tendency to pause before acting is a hallmark of sensory-processing sensitivity, according to psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron, who first discovered the high sensitivity trait.

That means you’re thoughtful with your words. And in the workplace, this translates into being able to balance different people’s perspectives and tactfully communicate, even when the pressure is on.

2. You’re a brilliant critical thinker

Studies have shown that sensitive people have more active brain circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to mental processing. So the HSP brain not only takes in more information but also processes that information in a more complex way.

Work-wise, you are likely heralded for the way you explore various angles and paths, whether it’s a proposal for a new business plan or trying to solve a team challenge.

3. Your self-awareness is unmatched

As an HSP, you have a vibrant inner life and are likely well-acquainted with your emotional landscape. One reason for this is because high sensitivity is linked to a gene that increases the vividness of inner experiences.

While this level of self-awareness may be second-nature to you, it’s an indisputable asset in terms of your career. For example, people with a more accurate self-perception tend to perform better in the workplace and are better able to tailor their leadership style to the situation at hand.

4. You’re skilled at spotting opportunities for innovation

Evolutionarily speaking, picking up on environmental cues and recognizing things that less sensitive people missed helped HSPs make wiser decisions and come out ahead in threatening situations.

In the modern world, for example, this vigilance means you’re constantly scanning for ways to make improvements in the workplace and offering novel suggestions. You probably also find that you’re the person who highlights gaps before they become problems, which can save your company valuable time and money.

In essence, your attention to subtleties makes you a creative, inventive problem-solver.

5. You’re capable of integrating and managing large amounts of information

A large majority of my coaching clients are Product Managers or Project Managers.

This may sound strange, but it makes complete sense when you think about it: HSPs’ depth of processing and conscientiousness are the perfect combination for roles that require organization, collaboration, strategy, and information management as core skills.

6. You have a pulse on team morale

Research shows that HSPs have more active mirror neurons (which helps them empathize and understand other people’s behavior). This is why you may find that you can sense people’s moods long before they say a word, as well as absorb their emotions as if they were your own.

Many of my coaching clients find they have a talent for anticipating people’s emotional needs in the workplace – whether sensing when their team is burned out, knowing if a certain individual needs more support, or reading between the lines to suss out when their client or boss is unsatisfied.

So, once again, being an HSP in the workplace can be a big asset.

7. You have strong intuition

Have you ever had the experience of knowing a situation feels off? Or how about the opposite – feeling in your gut that a certain direction or decision is absolutely right?

That’s your intuition speaking loud and clear (or as I call it, your “sensitive sixth sense”).

As an HSP, you have a great capacity to recognize patterns and synthesize different inputs, which can be a secret weapon in decision-making. Your intuition is more highly developed than that of non-HSPs because you’re constantly adding new data to your bank of knowledge about the world and yourself.

And according to a survey of top executives, the majority of leaders leverage feelings and experience when handling crises.

8. You impress people with your thoroughness

As an HSP, you are the one who shows up to a presentation with comprehensive data. Or you might be the coworker who spends extra time preparing to dazzle an important client.

Whatever the case may be, your dedication and commitment wow others and ooze professionalism. Others look to you to drive excellence and uphold standards.

These attributes position you to advance, as long as you don’t let perfectionism or negative thinking get in your way.

9. You focus on the big picture

HSPs don’t dabble in the mundane. In the workplace, you are likely after the bigger “why” behind strategies and actions your team is taking.

Driving towards a larger purpose helps keep people grounded and focused, particularly in the face of uncertainty. As a leader, you are effective at helping others find meaning and fulfillment in their work, qualities anyone would want in a great boss.

10. You create a harmonious work environment

Your experience as an outsider has probably made you passionate about inclusion.

Due to your ultra awareness and empathy, you value different working styles. As a result, you give people the space to be independent and create working conditions where they can thrive.

11. You’re a pillar of integrity

HSPs deeply value fairness. In fact, research shows that HSPs tend to score higher on ratings of justice and ethics in studies.

In your career, that means you uphold your promises and stick to your word. You can always be counted on to follow through (even if it sometimes comes at the cost of your own well-being).

And now more than ever, your voice can make a difference in the workplace, especially when it involves speaking up in the face of inequity or mistreatment of others.

12. You’re constantly learning and growing

Every client I’ve worked with has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. These highly sensitive professionals have a high drive for growth and are frequently immersed in personal and professional enrichment outside of work that may include coaching, courses, certifications, books, and additional training.

This is the best career insurance there is, because it always ensures you’re evolving and advancing, regardless of the conditions around you.

As a highly sensitive person who experiences strong emotions, you might feel like you’re carrying a heavy load at times, especially in the workplace. But the truth is, you likely have a huge amount of untapped value to share with your coworkers, clients, and in your career as a whole. Embrace being an HSP in the workplace for all the positives you bring to the table.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 techniques to control your emotions and remain calm during stressful moments at work

woman upset at work
If you find yourself getting upset at work, use grounding techniques to keep calm.

  • During high-stress situations at work, we often don’t have time to go for a run or write in a journal.
  • Career coach Melody Wilding says there are other techniques you can use instead to calm down in the moment.
  • Cooling down with a drink of water, clenching and relaxing your fists, and box breathing can help you relax.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Strong emotions are inevitable in today’s busy, stressful work world. And it can be difficult to control emotions – especially in tense situations at work.

Maybe you’ve been so frustrated with a colleague that you exploded with anger. Or perhaps you cried after getting feedback. If you’re anything like the high-achievers I coach, then you may wrangle with fear of not measuring up to the expectations you have of yourself. 

Complex feelings like disappointment, panic, or even shame are natural, but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to deal with. Without the right strategies for regulating your emotions, it’s easy to overreact.

However, many well-known strategies are unrealistic or impossible to do during the workday. Few people can go for a run or write in a journal during a heated meeting, for example. 

Here are four realistic alternative strategies you can use to control your emotions in the moment. Stay calm and composed and respond in a way you’ll feel good about. 

1. Cool down

When you experience an emotion, your body gears up to fight or flee. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. Your heart rate speeds up and your internal temperature rises. It’s why your palms perspire when you’re nervous or your cheeks get flushed when you’re embarrassed. 

To push back the rising tide of emotion, you have to quell your internal, physiological response. One easy way to do this is to lower your body temperature. Grasp onto a cold glass, melt an ice cube in your mouth, take off a layer of clothing, or move closer to the air conditioner. Better yet, take a time out and head to the bathroom so you can splash water on your face. 

Scientifically speaking, this activates the mammalian diving reflex and kicks on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. 

2. Ground yourself 

When overwhelming emotions strike, it’s tempting to lose yourself in a wild train of thought. You might recall every past instance of failure or worry about future outcomes. When this happens, you can use grounding techniques to reorient back to reality and keep yourself firmly rooted in the present. 

Simple grounding techniques you can use in the moment include to control emotions: 

  • Clenching and releasing your fist
  • Digging your heels into the floor
  • Relaxing your hips into the corners of your chair
  • Concentrate on the eye color of the person you’re speaking to

Pay attention to concrete, observable sensations and objects around you. This channels your attention toward what’s true and what you can control versus the chatter running through your head.

3. Breathe like a Navy SEAL

Navy SEALs know a thing or two about managing emotions under pressure. They use a particular form of regulated breathing to stay alert, focused, and calm. Box breathing, or four-square breathing, is a practice you can use discreetly at your desk or even in the middle of tense conversations. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Breathe in for four seconds.
  • Hold air in your lungs for four seconds.
  • Exhale for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath, lungs emptied, for four seconds.

You can find guided visualizations online to assist you in a box breathing practice if you’re just getting started. 

4. Buy yourself time before you respond

You’ve probably experienced regret after spewing words you didn’t mean. You want to avoid losing control in the future, but how? I tell my clients to buy time for themselves by asking questions. 

Start by empathizing and validating the other person’s view, then pose a question to get more information.

For example, you might say: “Great question. What’s your sense of the situation?” or “What I’m hearing is that you’re unhappy with the results. What else is factoring into your response?”

This gives you space to process your emotional reaction, use the tools above to calm down, control your emotions, and consider how you want to respond. 

Fighting your emotions doesn’t work. It will only leave you frustrated and unhappy. Instead, embrace your feelings and manage them appropriately using these simple strategies.

Read the original article on Business Insider