Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

The Careerist: Opening Up to Criticism

October, 2015


I feel like I take criticism badly. How can I learn to listen without getting offended or taking it so personally?


A negative reaction to criticism – even when it’s mild or constructive – can get pretty severe, especially if someone grew up in a home where they were criticized a lot. They will associate negative feelings with feedback, even in a professional setting. For insight, I called Glenn Furuya, president and CEO of Leadership Works, a business development and consulting company based in Honolulu.

“The book “Mindset” talks about the ‘growth mindset’ versus the ‘fixed mindset,’ ” says Furuya. “In the fixed mindset, you are rooted in arrogance and always striving for excellence. Feedback can be devastating: What do you mean I’m not perfect? In the growth mindset, it’s more humble, more Japanese Bushido code: ‘I’m imperfect. I’m always dissatisfied unless striving to be better.’ You look at feedback as a way to improve.”

So how can you turn a negative, knee-jerk response into a more open mindset?

“There’s stimulus and response. Between the two is a space I call ‘The Zone’ ” says Furuya. “That’s where you can choose. Let’s say you’re being yelled at; you can still choose how to react. The secret is to figure out how to get into that zone. Train yourself to take a time out, and think, ‘Do I take the growth mindset or the fixed mindset?’ ”

If the feedback is unexpected, you might naturally be feeling a little hurt. “Seek clarification,” says Furuya, by asking questions. “A lot of this has to do with humility, and humility is the base of great leadership skills. View feedback as an opportunity to grow.”


How do you exit a conversation gracefully? One of my co-workers is lovely, but she won’t stop talking when I need to move on. I’ll even say, “I have a patient waiting,” but she keeps right on talking.

 – From a frustrated veterinarian.


Walk away. It may feel rude to you, but people who ignore social cues – like inching toward the door, checking a watch or out-right declarations like, “Well, I gotta go!” – are unlikely to notice if you’ve left the room. Put your doctor clogs to good use and boldly skedaddle. Don’t feel guilty; she will probably still be talking when you come back to refill your coffee cup.



I clicked on what I thought was a Google Document link emailed to me by a business associate. I entered my name, email and password before I started to get worried it wasn’t legit. Something didn’t feel right. I emailed my associate to confirm that he had sent me a document (we were indeed working on a project together) and he replied, “Don’t open it. I was hacked. Sorry about that.” I immediately changed my password, but I was kind of annoyed. Shouldn’t he have sent out an email alert when he first found out he was hacked? What’s his responsibility?

For an expert opinion on this, I turned to David Tuffley, author of “Email Etiquette: Netiquette for the Information Age.” (Though I did enjoy finding a book titled “Email Mistakes: How to Avoid Looking Like an Idiot,” Tuffley seemed eminently more qualified.) He is a lecturer in applied ethics and socio-technical studies at Griffith University, in Australia, and is a former IT industry consultant.

“Yes, it would be considered good practice to let people know if you know for sure that your account has been hacked,” he says. But it’s not so simple.

Perhaps your associate wasn’t certain he had been hacked. “Should you alarm people on the off-chance? Probably not,” says Tuffley. “You might give your colleague the benefit of the doubt in this case.” Overall, he warns, “We all need to be very circumspect when asked to enter our login details in unusual circumstances. It is always suspicious.”



I was in a job interview, and the recruiter asked if I planned to have children. I wanted to kick him in the shin and tell him that this is an illegal question, but I really wanted the job, so I was evasive. Did I do the right thing?

Absolutely. Questions about marital status, pregnancy, number or age of children and future plans for procreation are forbidden by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC says, “It is clearly discriminatory to ask such questions only of women and not men (or vice-versa). Even if asked of both men and women, such questions may be seen as evidence of intent to discriminate against, for example, women with children.” Employers may ask about marital status and children’s ages after people are hired for purposes such as health insurance enrollment.

So why did the guy ask? Some interviewers may be insufficiently trained; others are just trying to make small talk and not realize they are crossing a line. A surprising number of employers know it’s wrong, but think they can get away with it. While a shin kick would be satisfying, it’s better to dodge the question with something neutral like, “I’m very committed to getting my work done, and always give 100 percent,” or, “Family sounds important to you. Tell me about yours!”

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Kathryn Drury Wagner