I’ve always envied people who can graciously accept constructive criticism. It seems I was not born with that trait, and throughout my career I’ve struggled with receiving feedback, even when it was entirely accurate. And I’m not alone. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, many of us react with defensiveness and anger or—even worse—attack the person giving us feedback. But the truth is, we need to get over it.
It may be difficult to listen to someone pointing out the flaws in the way you work or in the project you have done. But remember criticism will force you to look at your work again: When you are fully involved in a project, it can be very difficult to see the mistakes you are committing. Having another set of eyes go through your work will not only give you a fresh perspective, but also force you to reconsider the methods you have used or the results you have inferred.
Criticism will make you more confident: When someone gives you feedback, it is also a chance to think through your reasons for doing each step in the project the way you did. When you respond to the feedback, you are indirectly affirming these reasons and justifying them. This exercise, if done positively, will lead to a surge in your confidence, not just about your work, but in yourself as well.
Criticism provides fodder for innovation: Imagine a situation in which you never get feedback. What would happen? You would go on and on doing the same things, without feeling the need to change. Constructive criticism jolts you and forces you to think of different ways to achieve the same thing. It, thus, is one of the main drivers of success.
Now that we know why we should never shut out or ignore criticism, here are tips that will help you take it in your stride:
Stop and listen: The moment someone starts talking about what you could have done better, you mentally start defending yourself and preparing points for a rebuttal. Stop! The first step to taking feedback well is being a good listener. Actively listen to what they are saying, instead of just listening to reply. In this way, you will be able to understand exactly what they are saying and why they are saying so.
Filter out actionable advice: The best feedback is actionable. So ensure that you catch on to the actionable elements that the other person is suggesting. If they are only pointing out mistakes, then go ahead and seek some actionable advice politely.
Clear ambiguities, if any: If there is something you don’t understand or aren’t sure of, clear it immediately. Do not leave the conversation without fully getting the gist of the feedback. This will help minimise misunderstanding and, thus, hard feelings in the future.
Thank them: Be grateful that they took out the time to give you feedback, because most managers don’t. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, a majority of those surveyed said that they sought corrective feedback to improve their performance and wished their managers gave them more feedback on their work.
Express willingness to make changes: Use the right tone to let your willingness to take another look at your work be known. For instance, if your manager tells you that you need to do a more in-depth analysis for one of your presentations, you first instinct might be to get defensive and say something like: “But I was working on a, b and c at the same time. If I had taken more time to do what you are saying, the work wouldn’t have been finished on time.” Word this differently. Consider saying, “I’m glad you pointed this out. I have not been able to pay as much attention as I would like to this because I had thought a and b were higher priority projects. What can I do to make this better?” Observe the difference in these two responses; frame your reactions in the best possible manner.
Understand that giving criticism is as hard as taking it. So make it a point not to brush constructive criticism off. Only such feedback will help you realise your weaknesses and improve your performance. Constructive criticism is one of the means of moulding yourself into something better. So stop seething, crying or being disappointed, and start learning, doing and enjoying.