Criticism Reframed

Hearing criticism in a way that can help you to learn and grow can be tough. Criticism can cause us to tense up and get defensive if not delivered properly, which means we can’t learn from it. In my coach training program I learned how to connect with someone and give what might be tough feedback in a way that will be useful to them. But not everyone knows how to deliver feedback in this way. Properly delivered criticism can be very valuable to self awareness and personal growth, but our colleagues aren’t perfect and they may not always deliver criticism in a useful way. Here are some strategies for handling (and learning from) improperly delivered criticism.

Criticism & Feedback

Photo by Daniel Lobo. Used under Creative Commons License

Hearing Criticism: Don Your Armor

One helpful rubric for learning from criticism which may not be delivered in the easiest way to hear is to disengage from the comments. What I mean by this is to almost pretend the speaker is talking about someone else so you can listen for the content that might be helpful. One way to think of this is to think about putting on your armor, or your thick skin. Brace yourself.  I used to cringe every time I read my course evaluations. Now I still have to steady myself to read them but I do value what they say. They help me to be a better instructor. By consciously protecting my emotions–either by putting them aside or imagining they are inside my “armor” I am much better able to learn and grown from the comments I receive.

Hearing Criticism: Focus on the Content

I recently read an article from Inc about how emotionally intelligent people handle criticism. It suggests focusing on the content. Instead of focusing on a delivery that might be rude, abrupt or otherwise offensive, think about how you can use the information to learn, grow and  improve. Is there some element of truth there?

Hearing Criticism: Reframe the Feedback

Properly delivered feedback is very useful for self-improvement. When feedback isn’t delivered in a way that’s easy to digest, another strategy  is to reframe it so that it is closer to the desired method of delivering criticism in a useful way.

  1. Feedback should be given in a safe, private area.  If someone is beginning to share feedback with you and you are not comfortable with the location, invite them to move to another area. Say, “I’m happy to discuss this with you but I would be more comfortable if we found a more private area. Let’s see if the conference room is available.”
  2. To be most “digestible,” there should be a ratio of 2/3 positive feedback to 1/3 negative feedback. If you are just hearing negative feedback it will be up to you to mentally insert some positive feedback. You know what you do well. Be sure to remind yourself.
  3. Criticism can sometimes feel like a personal attack, even if it is not intended this way. Actively remind yourself that it’s not personal. See if you can gently remind the criticizer to focus on the issue rather than the person.  If they say, “You are X,” reply by saying, “I appreciate you coming to me with this. So that I can better understand and improve the situation, could you tell me what it is you are observing that makes you think I am X?” This has the added benefit of providing you with more detail on the potential growth area.

Hearing Criticism: What if You Still Take It Too Personally

Criticism or negative feedback isn’t meant to be personal. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person or fun to spend time with or a a good parent. But sometimes it can really rock your world…personally. So how do you handle this? Affirmations can help. If you tell yourself before you receive feedback, “this is feedback on my job performance,” or “this is one person’s opinion on how I conducted x project,” it can be a lot easier to hear the helpful parts. If you tell yourself daily that you are a good person trying your best then you will come to believe it, and negative feedback won’t be so difficult to handle.

Hearing Criticism: When does it stop being feedback?

In this post I’m not talking about criticism that is intentionally over-harsh, nitpick or continual.  Feedback is designed to help you learn and improve.  Nagging or bullying isn’t feedback. If you think you might be in a situation where someone is being over-critical,  your organization’s human resources department, staff assistance program or ombudsperson can be helpful.

Have you been successful in learning from criticism? How have you separated useful criticism from poor delivery? I’d love to hear your experiences. 


A Quick Guide to Effective Meetings

Just about every client I have ever had complains about the amount of time their organization devotes to meetings. Everyone wishes effective meetings were part of their daily work culture. It seems a universal gripe that organizations spend too much time in meetings. I even have a client who began a series of meetings about meetings!  And while it is easy to eye-roll this, I actually applaud this organization for the proactive step they took to ensure that time spent in meetings was productive time.

Why Don’t We Have Effective Meetings?

People don’t run effective meetings because they simply don’t know how.  We know enough to suspect when a meeting might be necessary but it is more challenging to know how to structure a meeting for a specific need, know who needs to be around the table and keep discussion moving in a productive direction.

How To Have Effective Meetings

The first step toward having effective meetings is be mindful about them.  Simply scheduling a meeting doesn’t ensure you will accomplish what you need to accomplish.  What is the objective.  Is a meeting the best way to accomplish this?

  • If a meeting is the best way to accomplish this, determine who needs to be there to ensure that this objective is met.
  • Ask participants for agenda items about a week before the meeting
  • Finally, draw up a draft agenda and circulate it.  Be sure to share the objective and any additional reading material to participants in advance of the meeting.

Effective Meetings Come in Many Forms

Choose the most effective format for your meeting.  Maybe you need a brief check in so remaining standing is the best format.  Perhaps you need a traditional hour-long sit-down at a conference table. Maybe you need to schedule a half-day or full-day retreat to accomplish what you need to do.  Or perhaps it makes sense to take a 45 minute or hour long walk to run the most effective meeting.

Inc. recently published an article advocating for more variety in the length of time we schedule meetings for. Just because your calendar software defaults at an hour doesn’t mean every meeting has to be that length.  Consider the following guidelines:

  • 10-15 minutes for brief check-ins and updates.
  • 15-30 minutes for one-on-one meetings with colleagues and reports.
  • 50 minutes for standard meetings addressing multiple issues or topics.
  • 90 minutes for problem solving sessions like brainstorming.

Running Effective Meetings

Meetings are most effective when you stick to the agenda.  It’s advisable to include a rough time estimate for each agenda item to stay on track. If someone brings up something off topic, use a “parking lot” to record the idea.  A parking lot is simply a place to record ideas that are important but not up for discussion at that particular meeting.  People who run effective meetings don’t take meeting time to discuss items off topic.

Effective meetings also have someone taking notes. Usually note-taker is not the facilitator.  The notes should be distributed to participants after the meeting with a list of follow up activities, due dates and people who are responsible for follow up. This keeps the work moving forward.

How To Enable Effective Meetings

There is a great Ted talk on creating a culture of effective meetings, in which the speaker talks about MAS or Meeting Acceptance Syndrome–this is the condition that makes us mindlessly accept a meeting without knowing what will be discussed and if we are an appropriate addition to the discussion.  If someone invites you to a meeting but has not shared an objective or agenda, question them about the purpose of the meeting. We can all take back our time from ineffective meetings by modeling and encourage effective meeting behavior for our colleagues.

Effective meetings are within our power! What will you do today to ensure meetings are more effective?

Workplace Expectations for Today’s Library

Ever feel like you walked into work one day and no longer knew the workplace expectations?  Sure, you do your best to be great at your job, but what helps a librarian be a leader in today’s job market?

Workplace Expectation #1:  Change

When you think about libraries over the past 20, 10, 5 or even 2 years, a tremendous amount has changed.  The same is true for the way we work: workplace expectations have changed.

People approach change differently.  Some people are innovators or early adopters at the vanguard of change. Others are laggards who resist change.  Most of us fall in the middle.  Change can be stressful and scary for some.


Workplace Expecations: Understand that people approach change differently.

Today’s workforce is expected to understand change.  We all need to think about change and how it effects us.  We need to learn about the change process and how it might effect our colleagues.  One model of the change process that I find particularly useful is the Transtheoretical Model, which lays out several stages of change.

Workplace Expectation #2:  Collaboration

Today’s workplace is full of experts and true innovation occurs across functional lines. This means that an essential workplace expectation is collaboration–working together with people who have different expertise.  This means that you have to know your stuff.  You may be the only person on a given project who knows what you know.  It also means you have to know how to communicate and work well with others.

Workplace Expectation #3:  Communication

Because of the high degree of collaboration in today’s workplace we are all expected to communicate well.  This extends to nonverbal communication and active listening.  It also extends to communicating with people of different genders, backgrounds and generations.  Because of the fast pace of work output it also means we need to master several different communication modes–email, IM, report writing, telephone etiquette, presentations, meetings–and stop and think before we decide which is the best choice.  Once we have made communication choices we have to carefully craft and execute our communication.

Workplace Expectation #4:  Multidirectional management

We are expected to be able to manage ourselves, our colleagues and our bosses.  By manage I mean take responsibility.  We need to control ourselves, and enable ourselves and our colleagues to do our very best.  We need to continually inform our bosses of what they need to know and occasionally suggest what they should do next.  And we need to do this according to the “platinum rule.”  While the “golden rule” states, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” the “platinum rule” states, “do unto others as others would have you do unto them.”  This is where the essential skills of communication and emotional intelligence come in.

Workplace Expectation #5:  Emotional Intelligence

Mastering emotional intelligence will probably help you get further than any of the other workplace expectations I describe.  That is because it is comprised of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.  All of these elements help you to work effectively with colleagues.

Workplace Expectations:  Conclusion

The good news is that while some of these traits are hard-wired for some people, they are not impossible to learn.  With study and practice, all of these essential workplace expectations can be improved, even mastered.

I would love to hear your thoughts on workplace expectations and how you have worked on mastering them.

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Dealing with Difficult Colleagues

Lately several clients have shared with me their challenges with coworkers they perceive as difficult.  These might be people who border on hostile, or might be people who don’t try to get along, or maybe they are people who are just different from my clients–people who are from a different generation or background or who have a different work style or work ethic.

No two human beings are exactly alike, so there are no two interactions that are exactly alike.  Therefore, it is really challenging (read: impossible) to find proven universal solutions on how to deal with a difficult colleague.  But there are definitely a couple of things to keep in mind when dealing with a colleague that you find difficult.  First and foremost, there are expectations of appropriate conduct in the workplace.  Take the focus off of the personalities at play and keep the focus on actions.  Despite the challenges, colleagues must remain civil, and if you or your colleague are having trouble demonstrating acceptable workplace behavior it is time to seek assistance from the appropriate person in your organization, be that Human Resources or your manager.

Another area of focus I recommend is yourself.  While you are unlikely to change the things about your colleague that you find difficult, you can control the way you react to them.  Observe what it is that bothers you and pause before you react.  Keep it professional.  Try to see the other person’s viewpoint and understand why they may feel the way they feel.

Sure, a difficult colleague can be one of the biggest challenges you can face professionally but by keeping your own emotional reaction in check, practicing empathy toward your colleagues and upholding standards of professional conduct you can improve the situation even if the other party does not show any interest in doing so.  And by doing so you are using a great opportunity to stretch and improve your interpersonal skills.

Story Telling

Last week I posted about mastering small talk, so it seems appropriate that an article from Inc. entitled 5 Common Elements of Good Story Telling crossed my Twitter feed (perhaps even more appropriate with all the buzz about the “worst Jeopardy intro story” circulating last week).  While small talk is an essential skill for networking and relationship building, story telling is important for presentations, teaching, training, or even just making a point.  Here are the commonalities that author Paul Jarvis has found among the best stories he has heard:

  1. Keep it simple, easy to understand and vernacular.
  2. Convey emotion, whether it’s humor or pain.
  3. Keep it believable and genuine.
  4. First hand accounts are best (because then the emotion and believability are easier to convey).
  5. Keep it universal. The best stories work for any audience.

Do you know someone who is a great storyteller?  What is it about their stories that makes them so memorable?



A Small Post on Small Talk

Ugh, small talk.  It means big work for most of us.  I just found this great Fast Company article on small talk.  Boiled down:

  1. Lower your expectations–no one is expecting too much from a short chat and you shouldn’t either!
  2. Have something to talk about–I try to enter a networking event with 5 conversational topics.
  3. Lead with a declaration–a very smart woman I know once wowed me at a networking event by starting her conversation with, “what is new at your library?”
  4. Then go for questions–ask open ended questions!
  5. Prepare for a lull–know your exit strategy for moving on to the next conversation.

What are your favorite tips for handling small talk?