Did I Do That?: Accepting Constructive Criticism At Work

Dear Sista Friend,

So, you’ve graduated high school at the top of your class with honors. You’ve done your best in college and pulled out the ‘cum laude’ standing (or higher, because you’re an overachiever, girl). In fact, you did so well you got a job after graduation. 

You’re working and living your dreams. You are flying high in all of your achievements and you feel amazing about yourself! You’re only 22 with a salaried job, benefits, and an apartment. 

In short – you are amazing. 

But what happens when your coworkers and colleagues seem to think otherwise? What happens when you get called out for typos in your emails to a client or forget a process you were taught or woke up late and missed the first few minutes of a conference call? How do you handle that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you are, in fact, wrong? What do you do? How do you handle it? 

1. Remember it’s not personal. Remember you are your personal brand; what you do matters (even at work)

“I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man” – Jay-Z

‘Tis true. The tough love advice is that what you do matters. What you do at home, what you do at work, how you live your life. All of those things matter to someone else (and they should matter to you too).

Your work adds to your personal brand. When mistakes are made – and trust you will make a mistake – your response, most of all, matters.

Often, the criticism we receive isn’t personal at all. The feedback we get is often tied to someone else’s results, to someone else’s brand. And eventually, the business becomes personal to someone, somewhere. So, do your best. And when you fail to do your best, take the time to figure out why.

2. ‘Fess up immediately; Take responsibility for your actions

 “40 Mama always say don’t ask permission; Just ask forgiveness you know so uh, forgive me, yeah, yeah” – Drake  

Actually, this is not true in corporate America. Please, please, please do not go to work acting out the lyrics above. It is better to ask first, then act. If (while acting) something goes wrong, it is always better to confess immediately. 

People (i.e., your bosses) feel better if you take responsibility for your actions and admit your wrongs. It’ll be a blow to your pride but I promise everyone will be better for it in the end. 

3. Don’t be defensive or angry, but be able to explain your position 

“You know the type: loud as a motorbike but wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight” – Jay-Z

Listen, sistafriend. Understandably, when we make mistakes – our pride is hurt. Our feelings are hurt, we don’t want to admit our wrongs. I’ll even say that sometimes – we aren’t wrong.

After someone gives us criticism – take a moment, walk to the bathroom or go grab a coffee, breathe deeply for a moment. There is no power in rage at work. Now – that isn’t to say you can’t find strength in your anger (I believe it is possible), but that strength must be powered into effective action. The anger or hurt you feel shouldn’t be expressed in yelling or defensive words, but in thoughtful commentary that acknowledges what you did, how it can be fixed and best practices for next time.

Now – that isn’t always the case. And there will be situations where you have full right to want to yell or be defensive. I say this from experience; but, those situations aren’t always the most productive.

Cool it. Go home and think about it. Then think some more. Then (and ONLY then – after you are calm) ask any clarifying questions.

Examples of clarifying questions:

  • How would you have done it differently?
  • What is an example of someone who has done this well?  What did they do?
  • What would you say are best practices for this?

“Breathe, stretch, shake – and deal with it.”

4. Tomorrow will come   

“I will not lose for even in defeat/There’s a valuable lesson learned so it evens it up for me” – Jay-Z

No matter what, remember that tomorrow is another day. Accept the mistake, learn from it – and then push forward. Is there a better practice? A question you should ask? A lesson you should accept?

Ask for clarification, shed a few tears (in the car or at home, of course), and come back ready.

Tomorrow, no matter the mistake, is another day to show your growth and maturity. Dig deep and dig in sis! The ride may be long, but it’ll be worth it. Remember that life is all about your choices. Don’t like something? Change it!

Your Sista Friend,

Timka Lockheart


Timka Lockheart is an ATLien who followed a dream and moved to NYC. She received her Finance degree from Alabama A&M University in 2013 and became an Investment Banker. After two years of the IB life, she moved on to become a corporate strategy and advisory professional. 

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