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Have you ever asked someone for their opinion about something and received a response that was overly critical, vague, slightly hurtful or down right rude? You ask something like, “How do I look?” And you are met with this reply: “the shoes are ok, but that dress makes you look homely and you really should wear make up.”
What do you do with that response? Do you accept the fact that the shoes are okay and ignore the rest? Should you be hurt or offended?
The fact of the matter is accepting feedback and constructive criticism is tough. Our first inclination is to adopt a defensive posture and either deflect, explain or make excuses for the critical area. Criticism and feedback that are constructive and accurate are necessary evils tied to growth and success. You have to learn how to handle it without lashing out or becoming disillusioned.
Asking the right questions brings the right criticism.
One of the most efficient ways to take some of the sting out of criticism and to ensure it truly is constructive in nature is to ask the right questions. If you ask vague and open-ended questions, be prepared for vague responses that miss the mark. Asking “how do I look,” is an open invitation for abuse. That question leaves nothing–regarding your appearance–out of bounds. However, asking “does the color and style of these shoes work with this outfit,” is a much more precise and targeted question. And you are more likely to get a very targeted and precise answer.
Asking the right questions, tells the critiquer what specifically to focus on. When you request feedback–of any kind–you invite and empower the responder to look for and point out your flaws. The more open-ended and vague the request, the more power you give them. Asking targeted questions not only assists you in getting the appropriate information you need, it also provides the person providing the feedback a clear area of focus. All of their attention is directed to one specific area and this helps to eliminate the tendency people have to look for something to criticize.
Below are a few ways to help you get accurate and targeted feedback:
1. Make your questions as specific as possible.
Ask about specific situations — for example, what could you have done differently in a particular meeting or situation. Avoid the generic “so, how am I doing,” questions and ask about specific aspects of your performance, a particular project or interaction. Tailor your questions to suit the type of feedback you need. Ask both specific and open-ended questions.
2. Ask clarifying questions.
When the critiquer is providing you with feedback, ask questions to ensure you clearly understand what he or she is telling you. Be careful of your tone and body language during this part of the process. You don’t want to appear defensive. The questions should be designed to help you understand the message and it should not appear that you are questioning the individual. Ask for specific examples or instances so that you have a point of reference for the criticism. And finally, when appropriate, solicit suggestions on how you can correct the behavior.
3. Listen and don’t defend.
As humans, we’ve been conditioned to respond not to understand. As soon as we hear a portion of what someone is saying and believe we know where they are headed, we quit listening and begin constructing our response. This is especially true when we hear negative criticism about ourselves. However, if you can learn to take a deep breath and focus on listening to ensure you understand what is being said, you can turn negative criticism into a positive change that moves you forward.
Listening intently, will also help you better decipher between true criticism and criticism that is framed in emotion. Emotions change and criticism birth from emotion, most likely will change as well. Learning to decipher between the two can save you a lot of unnecessary heartache.
4. Consider who you ask.
Before you solicit feedback, consider who you are asking. Is it a friend who is going to tell you what you want to hear? Does this person enjoy having power over you? Does he or she have anything to gain from your interaction? Is this person qualified to provide you accurate feedback? Do you respect the person? Is this person a person of consequence– someone you respect, admire and value in the area in which you are seeking feedback?
Before accepting and internalizing feedback–positive or negative–always consider the source. Some feedback isn’t worth your time or attention.
5. Deconstruct the feedback.
Once you’ve requested, heard and clarified the feedback, then you can process it. Do you have a clear picture of what the issue is? Is this something that you need to change? Is this an isolated incident with mitigating circumstances? What is the context and sub-context of this issue. Is this something you can change? Do you have a plan to address this issue if it needs to be addressed?
If you can’t answer these questions, you may need to go back and ask more clarifying questions or seek a bit more insight.
6. Evaluate the feedback.
The final step in soliciting and accepting life-changing feedback is a process of evaluation which you must do for yourself. You must answer the question–is this something I should accept, internalize and work on? Do you agree with all or some of what you’ve heard? You make this decision after you’ve considered the source and all the surrounding circumstances. If you’ve correctly completed the other five steps, the answer will be obvious. You’ll know if the feedback is valuable or not–even if you don’t like it.
Getting useful feedback is one of the fastest routes to growth and improved performance. It’s not always an accurate reflection of who you are — but it is an accurate reflection of how you’re perceived. Knowing how you’re perceived is critically important if you want to increase your influence as a leader, or move up within your organization. Hearing the truth can be tough, however, not hearing it could be detrimental.
Negative feedback is a fact of life: indeed, if you don’t regularly receive it you should worry! When it is constructive, negative feedback helps you to improve at what you do. And taking it well is a great opportunity to demonstrate to your boss that you’re engaged with your work and keen to develop.
But knowing that negative feedback has positive results doesn’t stop it from stinging. It takes calmness and maturity to process criticism like this, but those assets aren’t always easy to access when you’re caught off-guard.
One trick is to slow everything down to give your emotions a chance to settle before you respond. Slow your breathing, keep your body language open and lower your shoulders to relax. Asking questions and repeating back what your critic said can win you more time to think about the feedback and to make sure you understood it correctly.
Hopefully, the person who delivers the negative feedback is able to do so constructively, but regardless of their manner always respond with thoughtful thanks and, when appropriate, a genuine apology. The thanks let them know they’ve been heard and get you into the mindset of ‘being helped.’ The apology should be heartfelt. It helps you to think about what you’re actually apologizing for.
Moving on from negative feedback should be a positive experience. If the feedback was accurate, arrange a follow-up meeting so that you demonstrate your will to improve. If you disagreed with the feedback, write it down as closely as you can remember it and read back through it objectively. If you still disagree, talk it over with a trusted friend or colleague to get a third opinion.
Your emotions are useful when responding to negative feedback, but only if you have them under control. We’ve created a new guide on how to handle negative feedback so that you can draw meaning from the connection between what is said and how it makes you feel.
Approached with the right technique, negative feedback can be a springboard to greater things. Are you ready to step up to the challenge?
Three things to remember when you handle criticism in the workplace.
I often look like this when I take feedback personally.
I recently finished reading a book called, The Four Agreements. The title is a bit hokey. But the content is spot-on.
The book talks about the importance of creating personal freedom. One of these four agreements to create personal freedom is: “Don’t take things personally.”
This really hit home for me. I realized how often I take things personally — especially when it comes to giving and receiving feedback in the workplace.
Our tendency is to interpret the feedback we hear as a personal attack. It’s the biggest reason for why we don’t ask others for feedback.
When someone gives us feedback on our performance at work or about how our company is doing, we get an icky feeling in the pit of our stomach. “What?! How could this person think that?!”
We’re scared to hear something that we might not want to hear. So we avoid asking for feedback.
That’s a problem.
Not wanting to hear feedback means we shut ourselves off from information that will almost certainly be useful in some way.
In any piece of feedback, there is a nugget of helpful information. You’re guaranteed to learn something about a person or your company. Maybe it’s about how your actions are perceived by your employees, or the sentiment about a recent change you made to the company — that information is useful.
You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but you will learn something in listening to it.
The key is to not take feedback personally. Here’s how…
First, remind yourself: “It’s not all about me.”
There are other external forces shaping why a person may be giving you this feedback.
Maybe something happened earlier that day that caused them to be in a sour mood. Or, maybe something happened with their old boss that’s caused them to believe “this work environment sucks.” It has nothing to do with you.
Second, remind yourself: “I don’t need to be liked.”
You don’t need your employees to like you. You do need them to like their jobs and feel fulfilled and excited and motivated to work. But you don’t need them to like you as a person.
The minute you let go of the notion that you don’t need to be liked, by your employees, your leadership team, etc., your focus begins to shift toward what’s best for the company overall. Doing so allows you to open up and hear things that you might’ve previously taken personally.
Third, remind yourself of what you care about.
You do care about your company being successful. You do care about creating the best environment for your employees to thrive.
So if that’s the case, focus on hearing that feedback through the filter of:
“How can I listen for information that will help move my company forward?”
After all, that’s what you want. You want your company to do well. Listen for things that will help you meet that goal — everything else is secondary or irrelevant.
Granted, it’s incredibly hard to not take something personally.
But in reminding yourself of these three things — it’s not about you, you don’t need to be liked, and you care deeply about your company as a whole — you can begin to escape the trap of taking things personally.
By committing to not taking feedback personally, you open your mind to suggestions that could help your company. Employees will appreciate your willingness to ask for feedback — I promise.
You and your company will be so much better for it.
Eight steps to start taking things less personally.
When other people wrong you, and you take their actions personally, it can feel as if you’ve been punched in the gut. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but when you’re sensitive—or what some might call hypersensitive—you tend to take things pretty personally. You feel everything deeply, even if it has nothing to do with you. If people speak badly about you to your face or behind your back, it’s enough to destroy your sense of self-worth. Sometimes people don’t even have to say anything; you might just interpret their negative facial expressions or body movements as something you did wrong, causing you to conjure up every possible thing you might have said or done to upset them.
It’s easy for other people to say, “Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.” And while that statement is usually true, it’s hard to keep in mind every time we encounter someone cranky. For the sensitive person, it can seem like only a robot could manage to be unaffected by others. And let’s face it. The truth is, we’re all emotionally connected—especially when it comes to our family and friends—so we can’t just not care. However, there are ways to better manage our sensitivity and avoid taking things so personally that they hurt us for days or get us thinking badly about ourselves. Here are a few tips:
1. Know Your Inherent Self-Worth.
If you know yourself and your worth as a person, you won’t be so quick to take the judgments of others personally. Take time to get to know yourself apart from who others may say you are. List five things about yourself that you’re grateful for, and call them to mind whenever you find yourself getting sensitive.
2. Know Your Emotional Triggers.
All of us have emotional triggers from the past. Certain actions people take may trigger us to become sensitive about particular things. For example, if your father was overly critical, and you tried to be perfect to please him, someone pointing out that you made a mistake could trigger you to feel more sensitive than another person might under the same circumstances. When you do get upset about a situation, ask yourself, “Am I really upset about this situation, or is this one of my emotional triggers?”
3. Practice Authenticity.
This is the practice of letting go of thinking that you need to be someone else and actually embracing who you are. You must truly accept who and what you really are in order to be authentically you. Practice authenticity by doing what’s best for you, putting yourself first, and really understanding what’s good for you.
4. Make Mistakes.
As the saying goes, “To become our best selves, we first have to be our worst selves.” Allow yourself to make mistakes, and understand that they’re just part of the map leading you to the person you always wished you could be. When you do make a misstep, don’t forget to forgive yourself. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions, but don’t punish yourself too much if someone disapproves of you. Accept that you aren’t perfect, and remember that there’s really no such thing as mistakes if you learn from them.
5. Set Boundaries.
Setting proper boundaries in your relationships will help you take things less personally. You put these boundaries in place by saying no to work, love, or activities that you don’t want to do or that harm you emotionally. Doing too much to please others can lead you to feel overly sensitive when they do something that upsets you.
6. Let It Go.
Use a painful experience from your past to help make you who you are. Use it to give you strength, empathy, and character. We all have something that has hurt us. Don’t let it define who you are. Instead, use it to get stronger and make yourself proud.
7. Know That Kindness Isn’t a Pass to Acceptance.
We tend to expect that if we’re nice and kind to everyone, giving all of ourselves to them, we should be treated the same way back. But being kind to others doesn’t always buy their acceptance and approval. We better serve others and ourselves if we do things because we want to, not because we expect something in return.
8. Be Logical.
When something upsets you or makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s helpful to take a look at the situation from a more logical perspective: Did the situation call for the reaction you had, or are you losing it unnecessarily? Is the other person really doing something wrong, or are you taking the situation too personally? If someone is truly being hurtful, can you ask for what you need or work on letting it go?
If you don’t consciously acknowledge the unmet need triggering your emotional reactions, you’ll feel imprisoned by your own emotions. On the other hand, if you honestly take a look at yourself and see the expectations you cling to, you can begin to view life more objectively. You’ll free yourself up to choose your responses to people in the future, start taking more responsibility for yourself, and remain more emotionally neutral.
Sometimes our emotions call for us to be as sophisticated and educated as our logical brains. It’s of great importance, therefore, to explore where your feelings are coming from, how you can respond to them, and how you can allow the situation to challenge and inspire you at the same time. When you educate yourself about your reactions, you can turn them into reasonable responses in the future.
I’m awful at taking criticism. Whether it comes from other people or I’m judging myself, I take constructive criticism too personally. How can I learn to handle criticism without feeling so discouraged I don’t want to try to get better?
Dear Why Bother,
No one is good at everything, and few people are great at the first time they try something. You’ll always have room to improve, no matter what you’re doing, and the best way to grow is to take constructive criticism from people who have the skills and know-how that you’re lacking. The key, however, is separating the constructive from the unconstructive, and separating your self worth from the object of the constructive criticism.
Dealing with Criticism from Others
Criticism from others can be difficult to take, especially if the person delivering the criticism isn’t exactly subtle about it. The first thing you need to do is determine whether or not the person delivering the criticism is important to you. Do you value their opinion? Maybe they’re your boss, and you need to take their criticism seriously in order to be successful. Maybe the person is well known as someone who thinks they’re an expert, but just likes to shoot their mouth off. Even that last person can offer something valuable, but you definitely want to take their opinion with a few grains of salt compared to your boss. Photo by Everett Collection . (Shutterstock).
Once you’ve decided how important the person’s opinion is, here are some ways you can distill the important bits and use them to your benefit:
- Try to detach the criticism from the environment in which it was given. It’s normal to be happy when praised or defensive when insulted, and it’s normal to react accordingly, but you should also try to dispassionately look at what’s being said and see if there are clues for your personal growth embedded in the praise or the vitriol. Pretend the person isn’t talking about you, and try to read between the lines.
- Ask yourself: What part of this criticism is useful? Filter out the things that are actionable and repeatable from what can often be a lot of subjective opinion. This is where you listen and say “okay, that makes sense,” or “I can come up with a plan to do that.” Keep what’s applicable to what you do and filter out the rest. Remember, haters gonna hate, but even they sometimes hate for reasons worth considering.
- Write down those useful tidbits in your own words. Doing this removes the heightened emotion and lets you step back from the criticism, look at the it with clear eyes, and separate the advice from how you felt when you got it so you’re more likely to act on it.
I supervise six people, but I’m very busy at my own desk too. One of my employees is “Raina.” She’s very smart. She works hard. The only problem with Raina is that she can’t take criticism — even a little bit.
If I start a conversation with Raina about a problem with one of her accounts, she cuts me off.
She says, “It’s fine. It’s taken care of.”
If I say, “I understand it’s taken care of and that’s great, but I want to talk to you about how we can avoid that situation in the future” she can’t deal with it. She changes the subject. She gets extremely defensive.
I don’t know how to give Raina feedback. It’s like she feels she is perfect and can’t make a mistake. What should I do? If I can’t get Raina to take feedback I’m going to have to tell her that she can’t advance in our company. I could never recommend her for a promotion out of my department into a larger role if she’s going to be so defensive.
Raina doesn’t think she’s perfect. She’s worried about her challenges the same way we all are. She just has a harder time than most people talking about them.
I would sit down with Raina and say, “Raina, I need your help. I need some guidance from you.”
Here’s how that conversation might go.
You: Raina, thanks for meeting with me.
Raina: Sure. You want to talk about the second half of the year?
You: Yes. I also need some advice from you.
You: Yes. I need some feedback from you, on my management style.
Raina: I don’t have any feedback. I don’t focus on your management style. I don’t notice it.
You: I understand. I just need feedback on one aspect of my management style. I need your advice on how to coach you. I don’t know how. I need your guidance.
Raina: What do you mean, how to coach me? I don’t need coaching.
You: If I had something I wanted to tell you, how would I do it? How would you want me to share whatever I had to tell you?
Raina: Send me an email message.
You: That’s great for some things. When I feel I have input for you, something we need to talk about together, how should I start that conversation?
Raina: Okay, look. I don’t like feedback. That’s how I feel.
You: I understand. I don’t love to get feedback, either. Can you please give me some feedback right now? Tell me something I can do differently. I’m trying to get better at receiving feedback.
Raina: You can stop calling meetings about stupid stuff like this, to be honest. I hate this touchy-feely stuff.
You: I understand that. If I were doing something you felt were hurting me, keeping me stuck, would you tell me?
Raina: It’s none of my business. Your boss can do that.
You: For sure. I’m your boss. How do you want me to tell you when I think you’re doing something that won’t help you, and that can hold you back?
Raina: I’ll think about it.
You: Thanks. Let’s talk again next week.
If you value Raina, take your time with your coaching project. Don’t expect to quickly sail past what may be a well-established habit of Raina’s to push off and minimize feedback that feels critical.
You may have to have several conversations. Little by little the ice will crack. Your patience will build trust between you and Raina. She will realize that you’re not trying to make her feel bad — that you’re only trying to help her.
The easy thing to do would be to write Raina up and fire her for her inability to take constructive feedback. You could take the view “I won’t develop employees. They have to be perfect when I hire them.”
I’m glad you do not take that view! The greatest thing a leader can do is to help someone with talent and brains like Raina rise above a challenge — for instance, Raina’s difficulty accepting feedback. You are just the person to do it!
Dealing with criticism positively is an important life skill.
At some point in your life you will be criticised, perhaps in a professional way. Sometimes it will be difficult to accept вЂ“ but that all depends on your reaction.В
You can either use criticism in a positive way to improve, or in a negative way that can lower your self-esteem and cause stress, anger or even aggression.
To deal with criticism positively may require good self-esteem and some assertiveness skills, you may find our pages: Improving Self-Esteem and Assertiveness useful.
There are two types of criticism – constructive and destructive вЂ“ learning to recognise the difference between the two can help you deal with any criticism you may receive.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.
Dale Carnegie вЂ“ How to Win Friends and Influence People
When challenged by another person, it is common to react in a negative manner. Consider how negative reactions make you look вЂ“ and more importantly how they make you feel. В The way in which you choose to handle criticism has a knock-on effect in various aspects of your life, therefore it is better to identify ways in which you can benefit from criticism and use it to your advantage to be a stronger and more able person.
Constructive and Destructive Criticism
The difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism is the way in which comments are delivered.
Although both forms are challenging your ideas, character or ability, when someone is giving destructive criticism it can hurt your pride and have negative effects on your self-esteem and confidence. В Destructive criticism is often just thoughtlessness by another person, but it can also be deliberately malicious and hurtful.В Destructive criticism can, in some cases, lead to anger and/or aggression.
Constructive criticism, on the other hand, is designed to point out your mistakes, but also show you where and how improvements can be made. Constructive criticism should be viewed as useful feedback that can help you improve yourself rather than put you down.
When criticism is constructive it is usually easier to accept, even if it still hurts a little. В In either scenario always try to remember that you can use criticism to your advantage.
A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful.
Dealing with Critical People
Some individuals are critical by nature and do not always realise that they are hurting the feelings of another person.
If you know a person who is critical of everything try not to take their comments too seriously, as this is just part of their character trait. If you do take negative comments to heart it can create resentment and anger towards the other person, which could damage the relationship.
Remember, people who criticise everything or make scathing remarks to be hurtful are the ones that need help вЂ“ not you!
How you physically react to criticism will depend on the nature of the criticism, where you are and who the criticism is coming from.
The key thing to remember is that whatever the circumstance is, donВґt respond in anger as this will cause a scene and create bad feelings вЂ“ and possibly a bad image of you.
Try to remain calm and treat the other person with respect and understanding. This will help to defuse the situation and potentially stop it from getting out of hand.В Show that you are the stronger person and try not to rise to the bait, do not use it as a reason to offer counter criticism.В В If you challenge the other person you may start an argument that is probably unnecessary.
If you find it difficult to cope with criticism you may find our page: Anger Management helpful.
If you do feel that you may lose self-control, or say or do something potentially damaging, walk away. If you are in a meeting at work, politely excuse yourself and leave the room until you have had time to gather yourself. В Even though somebodyВґs negative remarks may hurt, it is more harmful for you to allow their criticism to be destructive to your confidence.
Taking the Positives Out of Criticism
We all make mistakes all the time, it is human nature.В As we go through life we have plenty of opportunity to learn and improve ourselves. Therefore, no matter what kind of criticism is aimed at you, analyse it to find something you can learn from it. В In material matters at work, school or social clubs for example, try to take criticism on board to help you improve. В When somebody is attacking your character it is hard to accept, but that does not mean you should ignore it.
Also bear in mind that the criticism aimed at you may not make sense at the time. Generally speaking, there is usually some truth in criticism, even when it appears to be given out of spite and bitterness. В It is often the case that a slight on your character is a fair reflection of how another person sees you at that point in time.В Take a step back and try to see things from the other person’s point of view, perhaps ask a friend for their honest opinion вЂ“ use criticism wisely and as a learning experience.В See if it is possible to learn a little about how others perceive you, you may be able to use criticism to improve your interpersonal skills.
We all learn by making mistakes, and learning how to deal with criticism positively is one way that we can improve our interpersonal relationships with others.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn more about how to effectively resolve conflict and mediate personal relationships at home, at work and socially.
Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.
What To Do When Your Employee Can’t Take Criticism:
When an employee can’t take criticism, it’s often because they interpret feedback as being judged.
It’s not easy to navigate—these are people after all, with a whole collection of life experiences that we know nothing about. It’s entirely possible that a direct report has had bad experiences in the past that’s made them wary of criticism.
Since managers are not psychiatrists, nor should they try to be, the reasons why an employee can’t take criticism mostly irrelevant.
Thankfully the solutions are the same.
When it comes to giving tough feedback to an unreceptive employee, it boils down to communication. How you deliver the feedback is going to be just as important as the feedback itself.
Be Direct, And Avoid Softeners
If you know an employee tends to react poorly to criticism, the key is to avoid softening or using the popular “sandwiching” technique when delivering the guidance.
“Sandwiching” (the act of saying a positive comment before and after a negative one) is a tempting go-to for most managers. Understandably you want to reassure your direct reports that overall they’re doing well. But by utilizing positives to ease the sting of criticism you send the signal that any praise you give is either followed by a critique, or completely insincere.
In order to build a healthy feedback loop, you have to be direct. This can seem counterproductive when the issue is that a team member is sensitive.
The real trick here is to treat their inability to take in feedback as a separate issue.
For An Employee Who Can’t Take Criticism, Stick To The Facts
Instead of addressing the defensiveness while it’s occurring, call your direct report for a one-on-one to tackle this feedback barrier specifically.
Using the think B.I.G. (Behavior, Impact, Get Agreement) methodology, and get right into the meat of the problem.
First, Describe The Behavior:
“The other day when I spoke with you about ending your sales calls on a friendlier note, and you told me, ‘I think I’m plenty friendly.’”
By outlining the behavior as fact instead of your interpretation (ex. “You were very defensive,” “You’re overly sensitive,” “I can’t get through to you,”) and avoiding judgmental language, you can more effectively sidestep a fight over what motivated the behavior.
Then you move on to the impact that behavior can have on the person, team or company:
“I worry this comes across as you being defensive, which can make it more difficult for coworkers to give you feedback or suggestions.”
Finally, Get Agreement On How You Can Move Forward:
“Are you aware of how this comes across? Is this something you can address?”
This method, while effective in its simplicity, may not completely avoid a defensive response. But at the very least you may be able to plant a thought about how certain behaviors come across, instead of assuming any of the emotional motivations behind them.
If the response is something like, “Well, I’m not defensive, I legitimately believe I’m friendly enough.” Then it’s time to flip the table:
“That’s fair. Tell me, is there anything you think I could improve when it comes to communicating feedback to you?”
If this still solicits a defensive or emotional response, then cut the discussion short for another day. There’s no sense in hammering away when someone has closed ranks. A simple, “Why don’t you think about it and we can continue the discussion next week.”
At the very least this allows their defenses to come down over time, which has a greater chance of letting the information sink in.
There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Leadership…
Consider this an ongoing process and not a one-conversation-solves-all situation. People come with all sorts of habits and baggage. And while it’s not your job to pry, it is your job to find the right way to communicate to your employees as individuals. What works great for one may not work for another, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ leadership.
Meet with them one-on-one consistently and repeat the think B.I.G process to help you avoid judgmental language. When in doubt, ask how you as a leader can better communicate constructive criticism to them.
Be prepared to receive their feedback graciously to set a good example. All you can do is offer guidance. The onus will be on them to consider what works best for their own improvement.
When I asked my client Jessica how her relationship with her manager was going since we last spoke, there was a long pause.
“Jessica, what happened?” I asked.
“She ripped apart a presentation I put together. She said I needed to start over from scratch because it totally missed the mark. I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation all weekend!”
Maybe you’ve found yourself in Jessica’s shoes, feeling angry, insecure, or demoralized after getting bad feedback. When someone criticizes your work, it can feel like a confirmation of your inner critic saying you’re not good enough. Other times, a single offhanded comment (“you look tired”) launches you into an existential crisis about how you’re too old and have accomplished nothing with your life.
But if you want to do anything important in the world, you’ll inevitably get negative feedback. Why not learn to get better at it? Besides, mastering the art of responding to criticism like a pro is linked to higher job satisfaction and is the cornerstone of building trust in any relationship.
Here’s how to respond positively to negative feedback, find the good in it, and fortify your confidence as a result:
First, thank them. Seriously.
You may be tempted to lash out and give that person a piece of your mind.
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Before you say something you’ll regret (or that’ll get you fired), pause. Don’t panic. Practice being aware of your emotional reaction.
Then, buy yourself time to calm down and gain distance from the comments by saying something like “Thanks, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts” or “I’ll need a moment to digest that”.
By doing so, you use your empathy skills to achieve two things: (1) you make the person feel heard and validated and (2) you gain control of your emotional response so that you respond respectfully.
Find the Lesson
After you’ve given yourself some space to process what’s been said, you’re ready to evaluate the feedback objectively.
Keep in mind that criticism is a reflection of one person’s opinions and beliefs, including their fears. For example, your family may be critical of your career choices when in fact they’re just worried about you. Do your best to de-personalize their comments and assume positive intent.
Find a growth opportunity within the criticism by asking for specific examples about where you could improve or what you could do differently next time.
Go on the Offense
Instead of shuddering away from feedback except at performance review time or when you have a fight, solicit it proactively.
This process, called desensitization, involves gradually exposing yourself to scary situations until the anxiety dissipates. The more comfortable you get having difficult conversations, the easier they become (and the more your confidence grows as a result).
Look for low-stakes opportunities to show your work to new people, setting up regular one-on-ones with your boss, or even creating a weekly date night so you can have important conversations with your partner. In Braden’s case, he stopped fearing his boss’ criticism by getting his input on presentations earlier and more often.
You won’t please everyone all the time and negative feedback is a natural consequence of going for your goals. Remember, though, that at the end of the day the opinion that matters the most is the one you hold of yourself.