Don’t get defensive. Instead of blurting out “I never talk back to my superiors!” ask your boss to give you an example of your supposed bad behavior. This’ll show them that you may not have realized you were doing something wrong but you’re willing discuss it.
Be proactive. If you’re lacking a specific skill, then sign up for a class to get up to speed (maybe your company will even foot the bill). If your boss is concerned about how you dress, enlist the help of a trusted friend or a personal stylist. If you’re consistently missing deadlines, set up reminders in Outlook. Let others know that you’re working toward becoming an even better employee.
Consider the source. It’s your boss’ job to help you grow professionally, but if Ms. Perfect in the next cubicle suggests that you dress more conservatively, you’re not obligated to take her advice. She may be worried that you’re competing for a promotion and wants to psych you out, or maybe she gets a kick out of playing Fashion Police. Thank her for the tip, decide whether it has any validity, and move on. If you’re worried that she might be right, you can always ask someone else for a second opinion.
Embrace feedback. It’s way better to make a correction early on in your career than to discover years later that your memos weren’t formatted properly or that everyone could overhear your personal phone conversations. Check in with your boss before your annual review to see if there are areas that need improvement. You can also talk to a trusted colleague to see if she’s noticed any areas that should be adjusted. That way you aren’t in for any nasty surprises when it’s time to negotiate a raise. And remember: Few people are masters at everything. Some are better at organization and others are more creative or mathematical types. Maybe constructive criticism will help you discover where your strengths lie.