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The Nasty Red Pen

You’ve been working tirelessly on the same project for the past few weeks and now it is time to turn it in. You breathe out a sigh of relief when you click the submit button to send it off for review. You feel ten pounds lighter and excited about how hard you’ve worked. For an entire day you live in sheer joy because the fruits of your labour are completed. Then you get the dreaded email back. You’ve got that nasty red pen scrawled all over your hard work and efforts. Doesn’t your colleague/employer see it like you do? Don’t they trust your expertise? Why did they hire you if they don’t have faith in your work? You feel like a failure and your confidence takes a huge dive.

Let’s be honest. We’ve all been here. The ability to take constructive criticism is an art form and a skill we could all use a little work on. It’s easy to read into the “red pen” as a dig at our work. Our internal dialogue is quick to pass judgement. However, consider the words of Helen Keller – “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

I would argue that there is not one person who has improved – either personally or professionally – without accepting the feedback and criticism of another person. Critique helps make you and your work stronger. If you think you’re always right then you are leaving a very narrow opening for growth and for challenge.

It’s easier said than done, but don’t take constructive criticism personally. Feedback is not an attack on you or your work, rather it is an opportunity being presented to improve. Recognize those feelings that you get when you feel like you are being criticized. Give yourself a bit of time to reflect and to shift your mindset before responding. Use the information you get to better understand the needs of your colleague/employer/client and use what you learn to ultimately make your project stronger. Two heads are simply better than one.

In today’s workplaces, more emphasis is being placed on collaboration. You see less work being placed into silos and more work being shared across groups. You’ve got human resources and health and safety professionals placed in the same office spaces, you see stakeholder committees set up for development projects, and you even see people being hired specifically for managing collaborative works. Collaboration is the new level of “team work”. It’s not just about working as a team, it’s about thinking and sharing in order to meet a common goal.

Next time you get that “nasty red pen” scratched across your hard work, use it an opportunity to stop and reflect. Give a thank you for the second opinion, even if you don’t agree. You can then open a mature dialogue and find some common ground. Be willing to make compromises. Acknowledging critique as an opportunity for collaboration will make you stronger and take your work to that next level.


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