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This is written from a fairly raw place, so my apologies if it isn’t terribly well digested (or even coherent).

Three or four hours ago I was a t work at my new job.  (It is organising activities for residents in a nursing home.)  My boss had said they would like a meeting with me – and so I had turned up.

They asked me how I was finding the new job.  I answered recounting the difficulties I had (that I was given little direction about what was expected of me).  The boss asked how I was feeling about it.  I told them that it had been hellish and that I didn’t seem to be able to communicate that, “No, I haven’t done this job before; and no, I can’t read minds”.

It probably won’t surprise you that I didn’t feel listened to.  Those of you who have been through a similar thing, will also probably not be surprised to learn, that the conversation then moved on to criticism of how I had been doing my job.

The criticism had been voiced to the boss by those who were not my supervisors, nor even co-workers, but those who were heads of a different division.  You think it was tempting to suggest that the boss tell them to mind their own business?  You would be right. You think it is difficult to know how to respond?  I think you’re right.  You suspect that it was tempting to ask the boss why they weren’t willing to talk to me directly?  Right again!

The criticism was that I was standing around doing nothing.  From my point of view I was watching carefully what people were doing.  If it looked like they needed help, I’d intervene; if not, I prefer people to do for themselves what they are entirely capable of doing for themselves.  This doesn’t look busy.

I really don’t want to get into the place of justifying myself to people who are not in authority over me.  To the boss is  a different matter, being accontab.  My reading is that the individuals who criticised me want an authority conflict – and I hope to disappoint them.

One problem is that I don’t think the boss will be open to discussing the process, rather than ‘the issues’.

I find myself in a difficult and tricky situation.

So far my response is to organise another meeting with the boss, to clarify my role and how well I am performing it – focussing on specific behaviour(s).  What does the boss want me to do more, or want me to do differently?  My hope is that we can have a sensible discussion about this.

How do you handle criticism?  Do you have different responses to different kinds of criticism (such as responding differently if someone criticises you rather than your work for example).  I’d like to hear how you respond and what you have found helpful or not.  Let me know in the comments.

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10 Comments to “Handling Criticism”

  1. Daphne says:


    Sounds like a tough situation. Take comfort in Henry Ford’s observation that ‘thinking is the hardest work there is’. When we’re thinking, the activity is in our mind rather than our body, so it looks like we are not ‘doing’ much.

    I guess it boils down to whether your boss is looking for a do-er or a thinker. From your posts I’m sure you’re a thinker more than a do-er, and you need to find an employer who values a thinker. Good luck!

  2. Evan says:

    Hi Daphne, I think you’re right. There is also the issue of me not being an extravert. I tried to address the issue of people having preconceived notions (“pictures in their head”) but didn’t get terribly far. Thanks for your comment and wishes.

  3. “So far my response is to organise another meeting with the boss, to clarify my role and how well I am performing it – focussing on specific behaviour(s). What does the boss want me to do more, or want me to do differently? My hope is that we can have a sensible discussion about this.”

    That sounds like the sane approach to me. The managers who voiced the criticism might very well have been doing you a favor if you’ve never done this kind of work before and were feeling a bit lost. The trouble is it sounds as if they want a more experienced person who knows how to organize activities without needing to rely on the boss. Is there any way you can take the initiative and get that information for yourself? Are there any books you can read for suggestions? Is there any way to talk to people who have a similar job in other organizations?

  4. Evan says:

    Thanks Jean. Excellent advice.

  5. Hi Evan — one thing I was unclear about from this post was what your boss was wanting from you. I get that he said someone else had criticized you, but not whether he agreed with that person or wanted you to change anything. I take it this is what you’re hoping to clarify in your conversation with him?

    You also said you doubt the boss is going to listen to you — I was wondering why this was. My sense from reading was that you figured he would obviously side against you. I’m curious about what has you believe that.

  6. Barbara says:

    Hi Evan

    In answer to your question, how I handle criticism, the overall answer would be not the greatest, but I do keep learning.

    And I do have different reactions to different kinds of criticism.

    I take it particularly hard when in a work situation, it is not about the work but about me. Yes, I am aware that my presence in a job effects co-workers and sometimes the work itself, but often personal criticism is inapproriate or at least inappropriately handled. Being a woman, there has often been an older male boss who still thinks and acts as if he’s the ‘father’ to his employees, scolding children. Too personal and ineffective to have anything change easily in a situation like that, if at all.

    Criticism of work really does need to be specific in order to enact change. I have been the boss, at a variety of levels, including the buck stops here. I have made the multitude of boss errors. I can’t say you did a lousy job with absolutely nothing to present to the employee as alternatives, suggestions, assistance, training, guidelines, etc.. Bosses do have responsibility to help with the function of their employees performance.

    I think your situation Evan was really unfair. Undue pressure from others not directly supervising you is totally inappropriate. Plus, there is an element of your supervisor finding out for himself, rather than taking another’s word. But assuming your boss had the benefit of some information from these other people, he should have used it to figure out the failings in his own area if he agreed with their assessment and thought your performance was somehow not what he wanted or expected.

    Whether it was his responsibility or someone else’s in his charge to give you, the new person, adequate guidelines of what was expected from you in the position you were hired, that was on him from what it sounds.

    And like many work situations of multiple hierarchy, stuff trickles down. It’s not right, but common. It probably never occurred to him he may have made a mistake.

    If nothing else, to propose to you what was needed and then have you return to him how you planned to implement the tasks set before you. All before the actual work began, or maybe in a trial period, so you’d have a better idea how you’d eventually proceed.

    I hope you can work this all out, Evan. Sorry to hear you got in the middle of this. Sometimes workplaces are so very complicated, having been on many rungs of the ladder, wearing all kinds of hats, I know this for sure, the answers are never easy.

  7. Evan says:

    Hi Chris,

    I didn’t report the whole conversation. The criticism was reported. I was not asked for my perspective. I listened for ten minutes and tried to explore what they wanted, this was unsuccessful.

    I tried to clarify expectations at the time without success. I hope this is what will happen in a subsequent meeting.

    Hope this goes some way to answering your questions.

  8. Evan says:

    Thanks Barbara, I appreciate your comment. I do think it won’t be easy – at the moment I am cautiously optimistic. Multiple hierarchies certainly are tricky.

  9. John D says:

    Evan – I’m sorry you’re caught up in this. There is so much out of your control, especially as a new person the managers don’t yet know well. Those complaining managers should be stopped by the boss and told to report their issues to your supervisor – he’s undoing his own organization and his schedule by letting issues like this come directly to him. It’s also a terrible work culture that doesn’t provide a chance for you to present your side. The cardinal sin of employers is not being clear at the outset exactly what the expectations for a position are as well as what the work culture prescribes.

    Apart from all that, one thing I’ve learned is the concept of “managing up,” that is, understanding those above you well enough that you can be alert to what their needs are. You can then handle your work in ways that are useful to them and get noticed as someone who’s got an eye on how the organization functions, not just someone looking after his own interests or punching a clock. That’s a tall order if you’re new. Reaching out to fellow workers for informal advice is the only way to learn the ropes and understand the organizational culture. And there is a bright line that has to be drawn between this idea and simply toadying up to someone – that doesn’t work at all.

    Just a few thoughts that may not help much, alas, in this unfair situation.

    My very best wishes to you for getting through this.


  10. Evan says:

    Thanks John, very much appreciated. I like the idea of ‘managing up’ especially – lots of food for thought in it. Many thanks.

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