When you begin a new position, it’s not uncommon to feel special. As the new guy or girl, you bring a shiny, fresh perspective, and your boss makes it seem like the possibilities are endless.
Once this happens, you may feel defensive (and even resentful)—especially if you’re told that your work isn’t up to par. Suddenly, you find yourself questioning your manager’s every move and delegated task. You may even be imagining that your boss is out to get you and declaring all of the reasons you’re right—both of which are counterproductive and could put your job (or at least your reputation) in jeopardy.
Wait, what just happened? Everything was going so well. The truth is that it all comes down to ego. You see, when you are sought after and in the recruitment stages of a position, your ego is getting plenty to eat. But when the honeymoon phase is threatened with a dose of reality, you have a flash of insecurity. Because, what if you aren’t the amazing employee you sold your company on? When it’s not being sustained by flattery and praise, the ego survives on anger. So the natural reaction is to feel defensive, as if your manager was unjustified in giving you feedback. She must pay—and the ego takes it from there.
But what if you could skip all of the negative feelings and, instead, settle into a new phase that could lead to a happier and more productive relationship with your boss? The good news is you can. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ll admit that the first bruise of the ego in any relationship is always the hardest, but once you are done licking your wounds, you will realize that a bad day for the ego is actually a great day for your growth and long-term professional relationships. While a poor review hurts, it provides you with the information you need to immediately start doing a better job. The key lies in what you ultimately do with the feedback from that point on.
So, how does one silence the ego, take feedback in stride, and channel it for the better? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Ditch Your Story
First things first, you need to realize that a large part of your stress is from your story, not your reality. You have the same job and the same boss you loved just before your meeting—nothing has really changed except how you’re framing the situation in your head.
So, try this: Write down what you are telling yourself internally and then fact check. Edit your story by asking yourself, “Do I know this to be true?” You will soon realize that many of the conclusions you are making about your boss or situation (e.g., “My boss just has it out for me”) aren’t necessarily true.
Rewriting that story will bring you back to reality and enable you to move forward—which is much better than dwelling on the negativity in your head.
2. Keep it Private
You would be furious if your boss gave you feedback in public or talked about you to others, right? So don’t go there yourself. Too often, what begins as a private conversation becomes a drama-fest when you hash everything out with your colleagues, the janitor, and whoever else will listen.
I know—you’re looking for validation that you are awesome and your boss is wrong. And while that’s not entirely out of bounds, you are putting a lot at risk when you start airing your dirty laundry out at work. Managers are legally bound to protect employee confidentiality, and keeping your review private on your end demonstrates respect and maturity. Complaining about what a jerk your boss is makes you look unprofessional—and doesn’t do anything to dispute a less-than-stellar review.
3. Own Your Actions
It’s tempting (and easy) to blame everyone around you—including your boss—for poor outcomes. However, the more rewarding path in life comes from a place of personal accountability, not blame. You have a choice: to be right or to be happy. You can either spend a ton of energy feeling undervalued by your boss, or you can listen carefully and adapt your behavior to succeed in spite of the circumstances.
So, don’t consider suggestions from your boss as feedback, reframe them as feedforward. Your manager is there to help you grow. Think about it: She likely wouldn’t take the time to help you understand what needs to be worked on if she didn’t feel you had the potential to get there to begin with! Once you stop focusing on what’s happening to you and focus instead on what you can do to move forward, you’ll move closer to the results you’re looking for.
4. Use Feedback in the Future
Feedback won’t stall your career—but stagnating will. So, look at your boss as the valuable coach he is and demonstrate that you’re willing to learn and grow.
What if you’ve accepted that he might be on to something, but you’re still not quite sure how to avoid being defensive when hit with a negative critique? You don’t have to say that you’re thrilled to receive critical feedback, but you should absolutely be able to manage the cordial, “Thank you for giving me that feedback.” Asking a question is another great option. Try, “Could you give me an example of a situation I might have handled differently, so that I’ll know what to work on in the future?”
Remember that a tough situation can be your greatest teacher. If you messed up, you’ll know how to avoid a similar issue the next time around. And even you still think what you did was OK, you’ve learned your new boss’ preferences—which can be half the battle.
Want to get back to that job you loved enough to accept and to that boss who supports you? It’s much easier than you might think, and you have the power to make it happen. At the first sign of the honeymoon ending, check your ego at the door, use negative feedback as an opportunity for growth, and choose to move forward. Prove that—despite the circumstances—you really are the rock star the company thought you were, and you will reap the rewards.