Legal Practice

Don’t Take It Personal: Working to Accept Constructive Criticism

Previously, I’ve discussed my experience with the public defender’s office and how it was less than ideal. This was the first professional environment where getting yelled at was super common–not just by the clients and victims, who frequently sexually harassed me, but by the attorneys. This isn’t a shade post on PDs–I think the work they do is incredible and not respected enough, but my personal experience was bad.

So bad that I can confidently say that I have never had a boss as straight up cray as I did my first time around with the PDs (I actually did two rounds with them lol). After that experience, I had skin thick enough to put up with almost anything and developed techniques to combat bad boss/client behavior that may come my way.

Luckily, I have had a great experience in my career and have been supervised by people who are sane and treat me like a professional. Most criticism that I receive is constructive and necessary. Though, I will admit that any type of criticism, even one that you need, can be hard to take in–that’s just human nature.

When we’re new and trying to make good impressions, it can sting even more. And unfortunately the risk of being called out runs high in this profession. Because as attorneys, we run the risk of being chastised not just by supervisors and clients, but also by judges…on the record. So there’s an added necessity to be able to take what’s being dished to you in way that you still maintain your professionalism.

Of course, if you are actually being harassed at work or have an abusive boss that’s not something that you should have to live with–but the response to this is really a whole separate post.

Instead, I want to focus on run of the mill reprimanding and the appropriate response.

When you’re being confronted for something the first thing you need to do is listen. Listen. Listen to what is being said so you can determine the problem. Is there a misunderstanding? Is there something you missed? Is there a solution you can point to? Being able to understand beyond the sting of being called out will result in a faster resolution and hopefully less scolding in the future.

Most importantly, don’t defend. Don’t hear just to be able to defend yourself. That will likely be counterproductive, especially if the person is already heated. Sometimes, in the moment, you have to take your lumps, but once people have cooled off you can either point to the solution/explain your process/produce the receipts that show you were just following their instruction to alleviate the situation (that’s my personal fave).

And if you do fck up, then own up to it. That’s key. If you made a mistake that’s causing a real problem then you need to 1) be thinking hella hard for a solution and 2) own up and apologize. This is the hardest to do–especially if you have a volatile supervisor/client/judge that may not be so forgiving, but we all make mistakes; how you react to the problem and how you work on preventing them in the future is what speaks to your character.

So of course, just for fun, I’ll share a story of when I got screamed at by a cray cray supervisor: some file got moved from her desk and she spent like 20 minutes yelling at me, full force, for losing the file, like how could I be such an idiot, etc. etc. I kept sitting there in silence because I hadn’t moved her file, but wasn’t about to start arguing with a lady that would frequently threaten to fight our clients (yes! She would tell clients in the holding cell who were disrespectful that she would go in and fight them!). So I just apologized and said I’d help her look for the file.

A few minutes later, an admin assistant tells us the files were put away because they were marked ready to close. She brought it back to her desk, it had the her handwriting on it–READY TO CLOSE–and then this lady starts talking to herself that it’s not her handwriting and that someone did this to her on purpose.

Cue me slowly going backing out of the office to go back to my desk…

But seriously this was my best lesson that you don’t argue with the irrational or those on a power trip. That lesson has saved me many times from taking criticism–even wrong criticism–too personally.

What do you do so that you don’t get defensive when you’re being given constructive criticism?

One thought on “Don’t Take It Personal: Working to Accept Constructive Criticism

  1. Great post. I can relate to this kind of treatment. I agree that sometimes you end up winning just by keeping your calm and allowing the situation to sort itself out, instead of trying to defend yourself.

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