Tackling the defenses
I'm curious: When you are the recipient of criticism, how do you handle it? (I almost called it "constructive criticism" but is it constructive if it doesn't encourage the recipient to change her behavior? Is it somehow constructive for the giver, even if not for the recipient?)
I've thought a lot about that un-stellar review--still rankling nearly two weeks on--and have come to a couple of important, even potentially constructive, realizations.
If I take the "opportunities for development" and honestly compare them to how I, deep down, feel about my own job performance, they have merit. I do have a combative attitue toward my boss. I do sometimes substitue my judgment for his. I do not get all giddy about new technology on a theoretical level: if I can't see the near-term value, I do back-burner it till it's needed.
Truthfully, as bad as it felt, it was not a bad review. It was a difficult review, but it was not a bad review. There were more positives than negatives. It's just that I'm not used to seeing those negatives at all. My boss felt compelled to provide criticism and it could not have been easy for him. Some of his reasons and reasoning may have seemed suspect or even silly to me, but he honestly felt that they were important points and, you know, he's the boss. If I were he, I would probably have expected more from me, too.
My defenses are oddly, unconsciously nimble. Without thought, I parry and deflect (and get murderously pissed off) instead of ingesting and appreciating and owning external criticism. Even when a part of me knows the criticism is justified and that I would like myself better if I found a way to accept it--maybe even actually change the undesirable behavior--I usually throw up my shield anyway and fight, fight, fight. Then I feel like a bad person, not just a person who has handled something badly. (And I haven't even talked about my unceasing, obsessive self-criticism and how that makes me even more raw and pissed off when I start getting it from outside as well, but that's perhaps a post for another day.)
I live in a world where there is very little criticism. I work in a highly privileged realm of wealthy, well-educated, competent people for whom politeness and consideration and a job well done are the norm. I am accustomed to meeting or exceeding expectations and being politely thanked for it. Minus the under-four set, my family members are generally in the same mould: considerate, supportive, non-confrontational. Occasionally, I wonder if that's part of the problem, if other people deal with criticism well because they specifically learned to deal with it as part of their daily lives. Do I need a foul-mouthed football coach to identify my weaknesses and berate me every day till I can handle criticism like a grownup--till I can actually take it constructively?