Kate McGuinness is back to answer a question from a lawyer who received some pretty harsh feedback during a performance review. Kate is an attorney-turned certified executive and life transition coach, and the founder of Counselor Coaching You can read more about Kate in her 7 Questions … interview. Welcome back, Kate!
Attorney: I’m a midlevel associate and just got some tough criticism in my performance review. There was praise, too, but this is the first time I’ve heard anything negative. I’m really upset and don’t know what to do.
Kate McGuinness: I understand your discomfort, but try to see this as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
1. Chill your inner perfectionist. Remember no one is flawless. In fact, the very way we learn is by making mistakes. An error signals something has to change. Call to mind some of your heroes who have gone on to great success after experiencing failure. Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey are among the many who did so.
2. Ask yourself if the criticism is painful because it mirrors something negative you have suspected about yourself. Are you thinking, “Maybe I really am . . . ?”
3. Step back and consider whether the degree of “upset” you feel is truly merited. Learning to tamp down your reactivity is a skill that will serve you well both at work and at home. This is a topic that deserves more than a paragraph and could be explored in a coaching session. The best advice I can offer here is the technique described in step 4.
4. Process your emotions in writing. Describe how you feel about the criticism itself as well as the experience of receiving it. Journaling allows the writer to become more objective by acting as a reporter and diminishes an emotional charge.
5. Write down in your own words the useful tidbits contained in the criticism – the tidbits that make sense, those that you can do something about. Turn the pain into education. This also helps you see the criticism more dispassionately.
6. Turn those useful tidbits into written, well-developed goals. In general, goals should be measurable and have a specific time frame. Again, this is an area where individual coaching can be extremely helpful.
7. Talk to a trusted advisor who may be able to help you put the criticism in perspective and decide how to process it. Don’t isolate yourself and stew in misery.
8. Develop a catch phrase or affirmation that you can use to counter the pain that arises whenever you recall the criticism. Choose words that resound with your own psyche, but here are some suggestions: “I’m confident enough to take criticism and learn from it.” “I grow when I learn from my mistakes.” “Feedback helps me improve.”
9. Ask for an appointment with the person who delivered the review so you can clarify how to improve your performance if you need more information. Consider presenting the goals you developed in step 6 and ask for possible refinements.
10. Be kind to yourself and quiet your inner critic. Yes, like the rest of humanity, you are imperfect. However, there is much more to you than your performance.
Let your review launch you into a career-long habit of adopting a growth mindset. When faced with adversity, consider how you can use it to develop your talents and abilities.
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Kate McGuinness joined O’Melveny & Myers on graduating from law school and after seven years in the trenches became a partner. She left to become the Vice President and General Counsel of The Times Mirror Corporation, then a Fortune 250 company.
After her stint in the C Suite, she studied creative writing. Her legal thriller Terminal Ambition, A Maggie Mahoney Novel is set in a BigLaw firm and explores power plays sparked by one partner’s attempt to stop widespread sexual harassment. Kate’s essays about women’s issues are carried by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Women’s Media Center, Role/Reboot and other publications. Her advice column “Kate’s Counsel” appears in The Girl’s Guide to Law School.
Kate’s latest career is coaching, and she graduated from The Hudson Institute as a certified executive and life transition coach. Read more about Kate on her website.
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Want more great career advice from Kate?
Check out these helpful posts:
- How Does a Young Female Attorney Navigate a Male-Dominated Workplace
- How Does an Attorney Handle a Partner Who Belittles Them in Front of Clients and Co-Counsel
- 7 Questions with Kate McGinnis
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