Coping with criticism
October 24, 2019 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I really struggle to cope with criticism. I generally have a positive view of myself and am accountable and reliable etc, but I find when I receive criticism, even when it’s constructive, it really hurts. I feel like there is no benefit to people saying that, as I have already done my best to produce a good product, and you can’t be expected to do better than your best, right?

If it’s in a work context I will fix all the mistakes as best I can, but secretly feel really bad about having received criticism. If it’s not in a work context I will shut down and ignore the person dishing it out in the moment and feel terrible later on, maybe cut them out of my life if they continue to do it. I am not talking about feedback I’ve asked for (I rarely ask, I’m not stupid) but unsolicited criticism, eg feedback sent to me by a job panel where I got rejected, at work etc.

I just find I don’t want to hear bad things about myself, or my work, or anything associated with me, and I don’t understand why people think I would want to pay such a terrible price emotionally just for an improvement that may not even be necessary in everyone’s eyes. I feel like I don’t want to hear someone else’s opinion if it is going to be negative, as long as I’m happy that is enough for me as I feel like I have high enough standards that I will improve on my own if necessary. I’m not interested in people’s intention to help me, as if I thought I needed help I would be asking for feedback and looking at ways to improve on my own.

How can I learn to see criticism as something beneficial, or necessary, instead of just gratuitous cruelty?

Yes, before you ask, I will address this with my therapist
posted by EatMyHat to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, I think you're personalizing some of this criticism. If you create a product at work that isn't to the specs they wanted (whether they realized those were the specs in advance or not), they should definitely be giving you feedback. It sounds like you are hearing this as, "You did bad work; you are not good at your job" rather than, "Here's how this could have better met our needs at this time."

The idea that this kind of feedback is gratuitous cruelty seems not quite right to me. I want to be better at my job. We all have people we are working for -- a boss, a client, a customer, an audience of some kind. Someone is paying us to do this work. So they get to have some input in how we do it.

Is this a recent problem for you at work? Is it possible you have a boss who is pretty mean and not tactful? Or are you finding this true no matter the relationship with your boss?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:36 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I don’t want to hear someone else’s opinion if it is going to be negative, as long as I’m happy that is enough for me as I feel like I have high enough standards that I will improve on my own if necessary

It doesn't matter how high your standards are if they are not in alignment with your client's standards.

You might be focusing on A, trying to do the best A you can. World-class A. However, it turns out that the client is just fine with "pretty good" A. What they really need is better B. Or C. Or perhaps a combination of B and C. Or perhaps they only thing they care about is getting it by Friday and A, B, and C are mere details.

Criticism can be cruel, but it doesn't have to be and good criticism isn't.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:46 PM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

You mention that as long as you’re happy that your work is (good) enough for you, you’ll improve on your own if necessary. The thing is, the work you do isn’t FOR you. You’re paid to do it for someone else (your boss, client, customer, whoever) to THEIR standard, not yours. Unfortunately this means that if you’re getting constructive feedback that it needs to be improved, you have to take it on board.

And ultimately if it is constructive and then you make the changes and they’re happy with the work, isn’t that a good thing? It’s not cruelty simply because no one is thinking that much about you, the person who is doing the work. They just look at the work itself and see a change that needs to be made. It really, truly isn’t personal.

When someone else pays you for your work, they are the ones who need to be happy with the outcome. Even if you ran your own company you’d still come across this because then you’d have customers who also have to kept happy. What can I say, capitalism sucks.
posted by Jubey at 4:49 PM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok so what I am really asking here is how to deal with it - I know I am supposed to meet my clients needs etc but I am already doing my best, so I can’t do any more to stop the criticism coming, how do I make it hurt less. I’m also not just talking about work but all kinds of criticism.
posted by EatMyHat at 4:57 PM on October 24, 2019

Would it help to re-frame it as feedback and input rather than criticism?
posted by bluedaisy at 4:59 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No I am of the “a rose by any other name still smells as sweet” school of thought - or doesn’t matter what you call it, it still hurts.
posted by EatMyHat at 5:04 PM on October 24, 2019

Best answer: It's easier said than done, but I really try to focus on criticism as an opportunity to learn how to do something better/new/differently. It's not shameful to not already know how to do everything, or perfectly.

For me, classifying my activities as having "done my best" is a bit of a trap. It gives my demon brain the chance to frame criticism as "my best wasn't good enough". That's a value judgment on my whole being, and it's not necessary or healthy to go there. "My best" is not a terminal state - it's a function of what I know at the time about whatever task I was doing, what infrastructure I have supporting my work, etc - and these things are always changing. It's really better for me to try to avoid ranking something as "best" or "not good enough" and instead compare what I produced to the specific requirements of the task.
posted by esker at 5:07 PM on October 24, 2019 [39 favorites]

Would trying this out vicariously help? Toastmasters is one place that’s a sandbox for the professional aspect of this. Find an active group near you, attend a meeting as a guest and see how observing the evaluation portion works for you. There is no requirement to join, you are literally seeing what it’s about. Seeing live, interpersonal professional feedback modeled might be anchoring, instead of trying to process what is on the other side of a screen.
posted by childofTethys at 5:08 PM on October 24, 2019

Try it as teaching? You did your best, but you’re only human, you don’t know everything you need to do a perfect job. Someone giving you feedback is telling you things you didn’t know, so you can learn how to do better next time.

It’s not that you didn’t try hard enough. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had. With more information, you can keep improving!
posted by LizardBreath at 5:10 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

My attitude for coping with criticism at work: Everyone wants stuff from me, but they're often super bad at expressing what they want before they get it. My job is to guess what they want. Once they see what I made/did/etc, they can now see how it differs from what they really wanted, and often do a better, clearer job of expressing what they really wanted based on the real-life example I gave them. This comes out as criticism. But it's not my fault they couldn't tell me clearly the first time exactly what they wanted, nor is it necessarily their fault they couldn't express themselves clearly and fully until they had a basis for comparison. So I try it again until they accept my work, and next time I might have an easier time guessing what they want because I now know what they wanted last time.
posted by space snail at 5:13 PM on October 24, 2019 [16 favorites]

Best answer: There's a saying that it takes 10 positive comments to even out the impact of one negative comment.

Is your support system strong enough, when you say "I got criticized at work today" to tell you 10 times over:
1 - you are great at your job
2 - you've been working hard and getting results
3 - remember when you won that prize at work
4 - you are great at x thing that has nothing to do with work
5 - your hair looks nice

and so on until you reach that 10:1 ratio.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:14 PM on October 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

I think Jubey has pretty much hit it.

You’re not being paid to do your best. You’re not being paid to fix all the mistakes you can. You’re not being paid to meet your own standards of what you think is good enough.

You are being paid to do the best job for the work they need done. You are being paid to not make mistakes in the first place. You are being paid to meet THEIR standards of what THEY think is good enough. And if what you’re producing isn’t good enough, they will tell you.

I’m not sure the problem is necessarily that you find this feedback or criticism to be hurtful. You are allowed to have your feelings about it. It’s fine if your feelings are hurt. Nobody enjoys feeling criticized. What is important is what you do AFTERWARD. Do you fix the mistakes? Do you follow through on the instructions you’re given? Do you change your approach so that you get the results they’re asking for? Do you, in fact, improve?

I think that you’ll feel like criticism has less of a negative impact when you can feel confident in your ability to say, “Okay, I’ll make those changes in Appropriate Timeframe and let you know when they’re done,” or when you can otherwise see that accepting criticism and making the necessary changes is part of being competent. The criticism part isn’t a judgment against your competence, but you believing that they shouldn’t judge you on the basis of your performance is a problem you need to fix. You say you’re accountable and reliable, but you won’t listen to anyone who says you’re not, so ARE you?

Since you say you’ll be taking this up with your therapist, I’d definitely agree that is the right approach.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm very sensitive and have never enjoyed criticism but I've become a little less defensive about it, and it hurts somewhat less. Here are a few things that help:

* Responding very professionally to the criticism and then taking pride in my professionalism
* When reasonable, giving responses that allow me to take time to get over being hurt/angry and actually consider the feedback (e.g., "Thanks for telling me, you've given me a lot to think about.")
* Venting to a trusted friend.
* Trying things I am actively bad at in a safe, trusting atmosphere, *not* being a star and being (sort of) okay with that.
* Journaling about my feelings and how I plan to handle the situation.
* I do want to know when I'm wrong about things, since I can't be right 100% of the time. This means now and then I have to let someone tell me that I'm wrong. It's hard but necessary for growth. Look at our people in power who won't accept criticism and see how that's working out for them.
* Proving that the critic is wrong. Not always recommended at work or anywhere else, but satisfying.
* Therapy or aging. Probably both.
posted by bunderful at 5:32 PM on October 24, 2019 [16 favorites]

Try to separate feedback about performance from who you are as a person. You did this wrong doesn't mean you are wrong/bad as a person. You need to practice separating those things instead of lumping them together. Criticism doesn't have to mean you failed. You can't mindread so you'll miss the mark and that isn't about you as a person that's about reality of sharing space with other people.

Also maybe try to work on doing good enough work rather than your absolute best because that reads like perfectionism. Ttying to be perfect to stave off criticism is a fool's game. It can't be done. You will never be perfect and you'll never do well enough to buffer yourself from all potential criticism so maybe start with facing that and accepting it. Your effort will never succeed at protecting you from negative feedback, so you might as well route your inner resources a different direction.
posted by crunchy potato at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I get it from what you said here:

I just find I don’t want to hear bad things about myself, or my work, or anything associated with me, and I don’t understand why people think I would want to pay such a terrible price emotionally just for an improvement that may not even be necessary in everyone’s eyes. I feel like I don’t want to hear someone else’s opinion if it is going to be negative, as long as I’m happy that is enough for me as I feel like I have high enough standards that I will improve on my own if necessary.

This is a problematic attitude to have in a job. Very.

Like I said, you’re allowed to feel the way you feel about the criticism (or critique, I think would be a better way to put it, since that typically involves both constructive and critical feedback). If you’ve put a lot of effort into a project and then someone comes back and has tons of changes or whatever, that’s frustrating. It’s natural to feel those feelings.

But the way you phrase your post, you make it sound like it shouldn’t be okay for them to tell you things that make you feel bad about the quality of your work. is okay for them to tell you those things. It’s literally their job to tell you, it’s literally your job to hear it and follow through. If you can hear it and think, “Ouch!” and go get a latte, come back, sigh, and fix all the stuff they want fixed....then okay. You’ve got this.

But it sounds like your reaction to criticism is derailing you professionally, and is not motivating you to follow through on what they’re saying in a general sense. And that’s where I agree with Jubey, it’s basically business. If you can divorce yourself from the feelings in the moment, tell yourself that you get paid to do what they’re asking and that it isn’t a comment on your own expertise (a sentence I literally mutter to myself when I have to fix something umpteen times, or make it look the way they want even if it goes against my professional advice), then that might help. It is truly a transaction at its base. You do the thing, they pay you, that’s it.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:39 PM on October 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

So a few things.

One is, it's a really fixed mindset to go like this:
- I worked really hard
- I tried my best (both of which are fair statements) to
- therefore, this work/present/etc. represents The Best and people should just accept it to
- and if they critique it or make a negative remark they are passing judgement and I should be ashamed

A growth mindset would look at it more like:
- I worked really hard
- I tried my best
- I produced the best thing I could, and then I took it to someone else
- I have an opportunity to learn something (could be make it better, could be how people are going to change it regardless) so that my efforts when I work really hard and do my best will be even better

and even
- when I feel bad about being criticized, that's an opportunity to learn more about myself

I do not like critique, but over the last few years I have learned to seek it out and it is hugely freeing; I feel like I am blowing past my own mental barriers often enough to make it worthwhile.

I also agree that professionally, it will hold you back. I've worked with people who didn't want to be critiqued in any way and the end result was that people didn't actually give them the feedback they needed as often as they should have, and those people didn't get better, and they didn't advance.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:42 PM on October 24, 2019 [32 favorites]

I hate criticism as well. My best strategy for dealing with it is to sit back, take it all in, respond to the extent I have to, and then give myself time to think about it, including as much pouting/yelling inside my head as I want. Right when I get the criticism, all I can hear is my lizard brain screaming “NOOOOOO” (which is why I hate when some people follow criticism with “does that make sense? How do you feel about that?”). I’d say about 75% of the time, after I cool off a bit, I go “oh right, I can do that” or “geez that actually is better, why did this even upset me.” But unlike you, I know for a fact I’m not giving my absolute best 100% of the time (sometimes I’m rushed or tired or distracted), and even when I am, I like that other people see things differently than I do.

Life is like tennis, you want to play with someone better than you because it ups your game even if you end up losing more points or making more mistakes. Part of achieving is pushing out of your comfort zone and that means sometimes you’re guaranteed to fail; that is ok because everybody does.
posted by sallybrown at 6:13 PM on October 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

So this is just a glimpse into my mindset and why I say the things I do.

I am critical and judgy. In art school I thrived because we did class-wide critiques; my talents lie in editing and curation. I've learned that I have to be extremely careful about expressing my criticism, because it's honestly my first response to someone showing me something they're excited about and it took me a long time to connect that to, for example, my lack of many casual friends. Like for example my mom shows me photos from a recent trip she took - after I flip through them I start suggesting ones to delete, or point out which ones have better composition and suggest she frame them or use them for a social media banner. Or I go to a restaurant with a friend and we try new things on the menu - I will talk about the meal and think about the highlights and how it could have been better, meals I've had that I connected to this one culinarily and how they differed and what parts of which were more enjoyable.

But the thing is that my criticism is almost never about the person at their core. If I dislike a person I just remove myself from them if possible, and I'm terminally awful at things like insults in the moment or dragging someone. It's about reflecting on my experience, sharing my thoughts with the person who brought it to me in the first place. It's from a desire to express focused and attentive interest; it shows the other person that I'm really paying attention.

And it's an expression of my perfectionism, of course. I'm highly critical and judgemental at myself, and I do a lot of self-talk about how I just need to let things go, not overthink every aspect of each thing. But without this part of myself I would never change or grow. So when I critique something outside of myself it's also me wanting to encourage that thing to change and grow.

When I critique in a work context I try hard to do a compliment sandwich, but if the context isn't there for that I keep my notes simple and blunt. When I'm editing someone's fiction, it can feel like I'm a mean teacher marking up an essay with red pen scribbles everywhere, but it means that the piece in the end is cleaner and more people will be able to understand what the author's communicating. So I'll send the edited document back with a changelog and a note that says something like "cleaned this up, I have a few questions in the notes but it was mostly just tense switches. Pay attention to tenses, they can be tricky!" Normally this goes over relatively well because it gives the other person something to work on next time. If I just stomp all over the work without a conclusion, it leaves them insulted and floundering.

So anyway I feel like you're definitely having an outsized response to criticism all throughout the different aspects of your life. I've honestly begun to recognize your questions on AskMe before I read your username because of the particular tone and subject matter you're most often asking about. You seem to be highly concerned with either controlling other peoples' responses to you - something we both know isn't all that possible - or controlling your own responses to people not being perfectly empathetic and dealing with their own shit - something that's more doable. But it's also an entirely normal human thing, to be sensitive to criticism, and accepting it well is a skill that you have to cultivate. Giving good criticism is also a skill you have to cultivate. I have to be mindful every time, and when I'm not I am made aware of the fallout by a loss of friends or clients or self worth.

In addition to therapy and reframing criticism as something that's not a personal attack, you can also think about the people who affect you the most when they criticize you and think through if they were maybe just bad at expressing their point, or maybe you depend too much on their opinion of you. Like I know you had a previous question about your mom - working on decoupling self worth from the views of parents is a time-honored tradition in therapy. There's also mindfulness practices like meditation and hiking and whatever else (pottery? singing? religion? for me it's cooking) that with consistent practice can help someone more quickly regain emotional equilibrium. And lastly there's medication, which you should talk about with your therapist. You might be having an anxiety response to criticism and having some chemical assistance can do absolute wonders for relearning healthy reactions to life. You've done a lot of good work identifying an area of difficulty for yourself - you're doing good self-critique! - and now you've got a lot of options that you can explore.
posted by Mizu at 6:43 PM on October 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

There is a book by Carol Dweck called Mindset that you might relate to. There was a question here on the green a few weeks ago about the book that involved some probably deserved criticism of the book, but I think you might find that you relate to it.

The upshot (very much in my own words) is that finishing a task is not the end of something (the task) but the middle of something (developing yourself), and the feedback you get at that point is just as useful on that big task as feedback on a first draft would be before you hand the project in. Basically, a challenge is not a test for you to pass or fail--it's an experiment for you to try. "Learning opportunity" always sounded like bull to me, but it really, truly is a real thing.

I've said before, I was actually shocked to learn that other people don't feel the same way about trying difficult things as I always have. Just knowing this has made a big difference in my ability to fail fearlessly.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:22 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Can't believe I forgot to mention this before.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria is a thing you might want to look into, especially if you have ADD/ADHD.
posted by bunderful at 7:27 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don’t understand why people think I would want to pay such a terrible price emotionally just for an improvement that may not even be necessary in everyone’s eyes.

I think one of the things that may be challenging is that for most people, giving someone criticism (or feedback, or whatever) isn't actually asking them to pay a terrible price emotionally. That's a you thing. Which is fine, you feel how you feel, but it can help get some distance from this if you don't think that people are doing this to you knowing full well how it's affecting you. And, also, it's fine to feel how to feel but it's not... normative, it's not how most people feel so them giving you feedback is likely part of what you're expected to do at work, so again they're not trying to torment you. Doesn't mean it isn't hard! But that might be a good part of the self-talk you give yourself.

I don't love criticism, but I usually do a few things that people are saying above

- see it as advice for next time not a "you suck" for this time
- understand that other people aren't me, so their feedback will be filtered through their lens and I'll have to re-filter it through mine
- along those lines, I sort of feel that the idea of "trying my best" isn't helpful because unless there's an objective outcome (i.e. do these 20 math calculations perfectly) there's always going to be some sort of subjectivity in there and that's usually where the differences of opinion show up
- if I liked it and they didn't? That counts for something (even if I need to do better for a work reason) so it's worth keeping that in mind. If you love it and someone else doesn't, there's some miscommunication or judgment happening and it's good to get what that is so that you can get closer next time

And lastly, are you ADD/ADHD? (no need to answer) I ask because this shame spiral thing is so typical there it has a name RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) and it might be worth looking into that (whether you're ADD or not) to see how people who deal with this manage it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:27 PM on October 24, 2019 [14 favorites]

Honestly, if you want to learn to overcome this, the best way is immersion therapy. I’ll give you an example. I went through art and design school and a major component of that is critiques where you put your work up in front of your peers and they literally rip it shreds. Ok, occasionally they say nice things but man, these guys could be vicious.

And thank god, because then I went out into the real world where I had to put my actual work in front of actual clients and boy these guys could be brutal. Clients will literally look at work that you’ve spent three months to a year slaving away on and tell you to your face that they think it’s shit. There’s no compliment sandwich happening here. And the thing is, I’ve won international awards for my work, so I know I’m not shit, it’s just that for whatever reason, this presentation didn’t hit the mark for them and they lack the communication skills to express that it’s not working for them in any other way. You need to be able to seperate your emotions from the work and take on the actual feedback they’re trying to give you, make the changes, improve the work and move on.

So, I think you need to put yourself in a really intense critique environment where you’re told often that your work isn’t up to scratch, eventually be immune to it, you’ll stop taking it personally and it’ll just roll off your back. It worked for me.
posted by Jubey at 7:38 PM on October 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Criticism in your personal life is a separate issue, and you're free -- and wise -- to only have friends whose idea of acceptable commentary matches yours. but work is different.

Have you not had any people to manage in your career so far who reported directly to you? By far the best thing for people with this much injury and resentment towards work criticism is to have to criticize others. When you're in charge of written/verbal evaluations, and when you have to answer to a supervisor who will step in to criticize your handling of your workers if you don't correct their mistakes and produce improvement, you learn that giving criticism -- if you have this kind of discomfort-loathing temperament -- is the one thing more excruciating and unpleasant than receiving it.

and I think that experience is almost the only thing that can fix this issue and allow you to understand the reasons people criticize others at work, for work purposes. When you've started routinely giving important feedback, you will know how it feels to evaluate work, and how little it matters how hard the worker might have tried, to the question of what the flaws are in the product they've given you.

I have this kind of temperament and a season in middle management hell is how I fixed it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

Here's what helps me - I'm terribly sensitive to criticism. I try not to frame it as "if I agree with this criticism it means I've failed and I have to agree to do whatever the criticising person thinks I should do"
I don't instantly try to decide whether the criticism is "wrong" or "right". And if I agree with the criticism, that doesn't mean I have no control over what comes next.

First step: It's not always possible, but ideally, I allow myself some time to hurt and feel bad. It's normal, it's what happens, I don't scold myself about it. But I do my best not to let my hurt feelings show, as somebody else pointed out earlier, it helps to frame this as being proud of my professional manner. The only response I allow myself is to ask for clarification if I don't understand the criticism. I don't try to explain why I did something, or defend myself.

Then I take some time, during which I evaluate the criticism. Is it valid in this particular context? This is why I take some time to do this because I need that bit of distance to remind myself of the context or goals. Usually, the fact that something stung is a clue that at some level at least, I believe that the criticism is valid, or otherwise I wouldn't care so much.

Next, I decide what to do about it. I might decide that the criticism is valid, but it's not practical or possible to act on it. Or I might agree that yes, since it's valid, I need to make some changes. I still have autonomy and control to some extent at least.

If the criticism is invalid, I might still decide "I don't agree, but for x reason, it's better if I go along with this."
Or, is it invalid, and I have to dig my heels in and say "Sorry, I don't agree?" because otherwise x bad thing might happen. Or it is invalid, and I will just side-step and find a graceful way to ignore the criticism.

I think you might be bottling yourself into a very tight binary, as if your only options are "I agree and therefore I should change, implying thereby that I've failed" and "I don't agree, I'm fine, and therefore why was it necessary for you to even bring this up?" This is a false binary.
posted by Zumbador at 3:07 AM on October 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

I used to be extremely sensitive to criticism constructive or otherwise. I've been able to deal with it by generally adopting a more 'spiritual'/woo woo approach in life.... namely, to question the external image I have of myself.. the ego. -We feel like we need to protect the ego, (or retaliate or defend or be victimized) - but instead... do nothing (emotionally). It's a sort of detachment... maybe more of a 'grounding' but allow your self-image to diminish ('let it go' 'let it be') and just be aware of yourself and realize that there's a deeper 'you' that is NOT being threatened here. It's a tough place to get to... and takes practice, but once you do.. it becomes a super power.

And it's a trick when you've spent time and energy on something and it comes back with problems etc. But- so changes are needed? Sure... whatever.. great... do the 'job' (making the changes is a part of the JOB, not an indictment against YOU) and walk through the world more stable, relaxed, confident and with equanimity. People will enjoy working with you, being around you.

Try to weave this into your life as much as possible... like if someone cuts you off in traffic, you don't get your way somehow etc... and this work-dynamic will shift for you methinks.
posted by mrmarley at 4:05 AM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Would a reframe help? Some of my work is in a field that's so competitive to get into, that if your work isn't good enough, no one will bother to respond at all. In this case, criticism is evidence that your work is good and the person critiquing thinks you're worth their time, because actually, they think you are good, and here's how you can be even better.

So, I take criticism as a sort of compliment.

The other thing that helps is feeling confident in my own skills and critical self-assessment. Like, if a colleague wants a change in my work, it's not because I did it badly; it's a subjective disagreement. We just wanted different solutions to the problem, and we'll have to get to a place where we can agree.
posted by the_blizz at 7:47 AM on October 25, 2019

I consider any work I submit for the approval of another person (boss, client, etc) to be a draft until it is mutually agreed to be acceptable.

What this does is manage your expectations. When you turn in work assuming it is finished, you expect certain things (even if you do not realize you expect them.) Thanks. Perhaps praise or compliments. At the very minimum, you expect that your work be accepted without critical feedback.

So when someone goes against those expectations by criticizing your work it feels out of the blue and is upsetting.

When you turn something in with the idea that it is a draft until further notice, you go in expecting criticism and change requests. Whenever I submit something I always say "Please let me know if there are any changes needed." After I make any changes, I again say "Please let me know if any further changes are needed." And so on, until the person lets me know they are satisfied. Occasionally it gets annoying redoing something over and over, or changing something I liked, but it doesn't hurt my feelings or make me angry. It's just a way of collaborating, really.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:17 AM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am not talking about feedback I’ve asked for (I rarely ask, I’m not stupid)

Perhaps the fact that you rarely ask for feedback is making this worse? It's kind of unusual to not ask for feedback proactively at work, in my experience. If you don't ever ask and get defensive when you get critical feedback, it's likely that people are going to be nervous about giving you feedback and quite possibly be harsher than they might otherwise be. So perhaps you need to start asking more often. This will let you be in control of the conversation more. You can ask for feedback on specific things, and get used to hearing both good, and bad. Give yourself a chance to mentally prepare instead of having it come out of left field.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:42 AM on October 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

Something I haven't seen in the excellent advice you've gotten above:

It seems possible that you are in an environment where "success" in the sense of, "if I do what they tell me to the best of my abilities, I will produce what they want," is not possible. If that's the case, honestly, you're being set up to fail. And this is distressing to experience! Very few jobs are inherently this way -- most are made this way by poor management, rotten corporate priorities, unclear communication and shitty training.

If you couldn't tell, I work in precisely such a capacity. What I have done to adjust my expectations, and stop feeling whipsawed by criticisms that come seeminly out of nowhere, is to start any project by looking at the failure points. Where is the schedule likely to fuck me over? Who is the client and what do I know about them? What questions have they not answered in time? What are some points on which they were unclear--can I get clarity?

Sometimes this helps me actually pull the project into a less failure-prone state! But mostly it helps me calibrate my expectations for how the work will be received. "OK, they're going to be mad about x. But I know I did x because the schedule didn't allow for y, not because I'm a big dummy. So they can think what they want. And then they can pay me to do y."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

If that's the case, honestly, you're being set up to fail.

I just wanted to say...this is very field-dependent. In my fields (media/marketing/martial arts) feedback at the last stages (or after classes are taught) is absolutely an expected part of the process and anyone who is married to their deathless prose/layouts/graphics/marketing piece is going to experience career issues. Just some perspective.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:03 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

In my fields (media/marketing/martial arts) feedback at the last stages (or after classes are taught) is absolutely an expected part of the process

Oh, absolutely. I'm talking more about a situation in which the starting conditions make success (in the sense of, very little critical feedback or a solid mix of positive and critical feedback) impossible or improbable. It's still important to take that end feedback on board professionally, but if you KNOW, because of the starting conditions, that it's coming, you can be better prepared to absorb it impartially.

Basically I'm talking about reframing "doing one's best" to "I'm not stupid/incapable; I was working within the constraints. Now we can start to address the problems that caused."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:42 PM on October 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Would it help to question the assumption that feedback is always about fixing "mistakes" and objectively improving what you've done? For instance, if I asked you to fold a piece of paper in half, there's a 50% chance you won't do it the way I had in mind (maybe I was thinking you should fold it lengthwise, but you folded it width-wise). If I then told you no, go back and fold it the other way, that's not saying that what you did was wrong or that my way was better, just that what we both had in mind was different and I'm the person asking, so I get to pick.

Unless you're turning in work that's rife with actual mistakes (grammatical errors, wrong topic, clear discrepancies between what you were asked to do and what you did), I'm guessing that you're receiving feedback just because that's how your job works and it would be weird if there were no round of revisions. Yes, it's annoying when you want to be done with something and the client won't just go away and be happy, but that's how a lot of jobs are. Really try to differentiate between "criticism because you did a thing poorly" and "feedback because they wanted some things different" - I bet there's a lot more of the latter in what you're being told.
posted by DingoMutt at 2:14 PM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

All this reframing and shit takes energy, takes a little bit out of your store of resilience. If you are a trauma survivor or other parts of your life are unsafe and unfair to you you won't necessarily have as much resilience. Working on this with a therapist who is specialist in trauma recovery and ruthlessly working to change your life into one that's safe for you will give you more resilience to reframe, to process, to tolerate distress when you get criticism. This is not your fault!
posted by Mistress at 2:16 PM on October 25, 2019

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