Five Ways To Develop Thicker Skin At Work
Don’t you love when people criticize you then blame you for being too sensitive? Capitalism has truly made an art of narcissism. People who interrupt, gossip, and talk loudly are often elevated for their so-called boldness.
The bigger problem is that employees look to senior executives as examples of leadership and success. Throughout church and state, people become what they worship – and the office is no exception. Hence the legions of “shitty media men” following in Harvey’s footsteps. But I digress.
It’s a lost cause to try to dissect how we got here. Sadly, you can’t change another person’s opinion of you, much less an entire industry. As my previous boss said with a shrug, “You need thicker skin.”
Criticism hits anybody in the jugular. We feel inferior and assume the messenger has a superiority complex – which may or may not be accurate. After years in middle management, I’ve learned that the bombastic and the dejected team members are two sides of the same coin. One is overinflated for fear of being cut down. And the other is deflated with a longing to be overinflated.
True emotional strength, for me, is about ditching the hot air altogether and stabilizing yourself in self-compassion no matter what your boss says, how you screwed up that meeting, or why that co-worker is lying about you behind your back.
I’m not recommending detachment or simply not caring. That would be too easy. Emotional strength is a solid inner life that holds my sensitive nature and the insensitivity of the world together. The result is a right-mindedness that allows me to hear the criticism without internalizing it. This core muscle allows you to put the feedback in its place before it steeps into your subconscious (only to fester later as depression).
Here are five ways to work it:
Physically and mentally. Go for a walk outside or just to a different floor. When the arrows are flying at you in real time, imagine yourself looking down into the room from a high cliff underneath the skies. During trauma, our bodies naturally shut off which is why it’s natural to feel numb in a stressful moment. The goal here is to do the same for your mind in overdrive. You are basically forcing an outer body experience thereby externalizing the feedback.
After the meeting, make a list of every slam swirling around in your head right now. Then go back to the top and next to each one, write next to it in capital letters: OPINION NOT FACT.
Be Kind To Yourself
You have a right to make mistakes. You have a right to change your mind. And you, only you, have a right to judge your own behavior.
Have you internalized the criticism? What would you say if somebody called your best friend that? How would you support her? You know what to do.
It helps me to imagine these comforting words coming a loving person in my life (God, Buddha, grandma). Listen to them. Then buy yourself an ice cream.
As a writer, I have a tendency to live in my head so this next bit works for me: ask the critic questions. Internalizing criticism means that you believe the negative messages that other people force upon you about yourself. The belief runs so deep that the record in your head is really you saying these horrible things to yourself.
So imagine two bodies, both are you: one the critic, the other the real you. First, visualize the critic saying whatever she wants to say. When she’s through, have the real you ask questions like: Why are you here? How long are you going to stay? What are you going to do?
It’s amazing how the critic loses steam. Then tell the critic to go away.
What’s amazing about this exercise is that it processes the negativity instead of sweeping it under a rug. As a result, I always have a sense of healthier resolve to do better next time without the emotional baggage.
Share Your Story
Some experiences are too traumatic to face alone. Defend yourself if you need to. Ask around for friends of friends who can recommend a lawyer. See your primary doctor for a therapist referral. Tell your story a hundred times to trusted friends or talk to us.
Recounting gory details helps dissipate the feelings of distress that burden you.
“It’s a kind of acosmic attitude, as though there’s nothing really there stopping you from doing whatever you want.”
Criticism is a derivative of rejection. And one of my favorite ways of dealing with rejection is volume. The strategy is the more you hear “no,” the less biting it sounds.
Take it out of the office. Ask for things you think you won’t get in everyday life:
- An upgrade to first class
- A free appetizer
- Better seating in a restaurant
- Use an expired coupon
Have fun! Get used to hearing no. Eventually, you’ll get used to it and it won’t bother you so much when you hear it at work. And maybe you’ll even get some free stuff to boot.
Then, like a scab that heals over a wound, one day you’ll find your skin is stronger than what was there before. You’ll have thick skin. And still be you. Only stronger.