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Workers who get defensive about criticism tend to be less happy

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

You're not going to like what you're about to read.

But you will be better for it.

If you can handle criticism like that — with open mind and willingness to hear the lesson behind the critique — you will be happier at your job.

That's the conclusion of a recent study based on the Sensitivity to Criticism Test from PsychTests and responses from more than 3,600 participants.

The study revealed that those who tend to be defensive about criticism are less happy with their job, have low performance ratings and low self-esteem.

Of course, it's never easy to hear your music coach describe your high notes as straining.

It's embarrassing for an executive to be told he was out of control at his last board meeting.

And who wants to be told they come off as indifferent?

But “those who are able to get past the harsh outer shell of criticism to the nugget of wisdom at its core will possess one of the major keys to success,” says Illona Jerabek, president of PsychTests.

Researchers found women are more likely to take criticism personally and be hard on themselves for not doing something well. Men were more likely to convince themselves the critic is wrong, even arguing with the critique.

The people who became most defensive were those more likely to have the lowest self-esteem.

Those with critique-giving experience agree.

“If there was an esteem problem, both men and women seemed to block out the ‘constructive' part of the equation and only focus on the criticism,” says Doug Mayblum, president of Leadership Explorations and a former financial services executive.

“First came the denial of my opinion and too much energy spent on trying to build a case to prove me wrong. Sometimes excuses or blaming others would follow.”

The employee might come back with ammunition to prove him wrong, saying, “I looked at the numbers differently and believe you were wrong in your analysis” or “If you talk to Joan, she'll tell you this or that happened.”

At times he needed to take a “more patient approach and spend a lot of time accentuating what they do good.”

If someone stayed on the defensive, “it was obvious that too much of my own time would be required to counsel him or her,” detracting from “developing the more talented and mature employee.”

Managers don't take kindly to resistance of constructive criticism.

Another executive, Doug Brueckner, who works in information technology, found that people with lower self-esteem “have a difficult time separating the criticism of the process or event from themselves” and it becomes “more difficult to provide constructive criticism when someone becomes defensive and doesn't listen to the message.”

He noted that “men were more likely to push back, wanting to explain ‘why' something happened the way it did.”

Next time you're about to be critiqued, keep an open mind. Be interested instead of defensive.

When you hear criticism, ask this: How might I approach this differently?

Doing this will not only help you learn and improve, but it likely will make both of you happier with the job you're doing.

Email andrea@andreakay.com

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