We bristle, we get angry, we cry, we deny, we blame others, we come back with a biting retort, and we rationalize. None of this allows us to improve.
Do you desire to grow and improve as a human being? Or at least show off the rare skill of taking negative feedback with grace?
Feedback, though difficult to take, is possibly the best way to become aware of our weaknesses.
Taking criticism requires humility and self-awareness. It may attack our security or identity. Or we might not care for the person giving feedback.
Before you react, try not to react. Pause your facial expression. Bite your tongue. Remind yourself to stay calm. Overreaction will not get you the information you need. A fleeting facial expression of disgust might be enough to stop an honest conversation.
You and I need constructive criticism to improve. Our work will get better and our relationships will be more satisfying. Don’t expect perfect feedback, but trust that people generally want what is best for you and have pure motives. Don’t focus on the person, don’t let their flaws distract you from accurate feedback. Giving feedback is difficult. Nervousness may lead your criticizer to an imperfect delivery. Listen for content.
Listening is more than possessing ears that function. (Read Listen UP! How to Use your Ears at Work.) Don’t interrupt, make sure you understand what is being said. Ask questions to clarify.
Say Thank You
Recognize the importance of open communication. You want feedback to keep coming. Give direct eye contact and say thank you. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with what was said. Thank them for sharing their opinion, thank them for their time, and thank them for caring enough about you to share how they feel.
Find out More
Take your emotional temperature. If you’re feeling too hot or cold, ask for time to think about what was said. Set a time to meet in the next day or two. If you’re calm, find out more. To fully process the feedback, ask questions. Get to the right issue, the root. Ask, “What evidence did you see? What would you like changed?” Don’t ask why questions, why breeds resentment.
Deconstruct. An outside perspective might show that our internal awareness of self doesn’t align with our external presentation of self. As in our conversation about giving feedback, ask the right questions. Find out if the concern is about content, a pattern of behavior, or the relationship. Deduce what the real issue is. Ask if the situation was an isolated incident or a pattern. Ask for suggestions in the form of concrete solutions.
After the real issue has been identified and solutions have been outlined, thank the person again. Reassure them of your commitment for change. Set a time to follow up. Say, “I want to make sure that I break this pattern. Can we schedule a time to meet in a month? I’d like to get your honest opinion then if you’ve seen improvement?
Unthinkingly, managers may give constructive feedback in front of others. In this case, it is usually best to smile and nod in the moment. Later, ask them to please save feedback for private meetings.
If you Still Think The Feedback is Off-Base
Don’t argue or call them crazy. Search for a kernel of truth. Try to agree to at least part of what was said. Take some altitude. Are you too close, would a bigger-picture view help you to see the need to apply the feedback?
On your own time, write down the feedback. Say it aloud. This may help to take it out of the voice of your manager. Ask a trusted friend if they see the same thing. Even given in spite and bitterness, feedback usually has some truth.
If the boss hasn’t gathered appraisals from those who know and depend on your work, it may be appropriate to ask that their evaluations be included.
If you still find nothing valid, the feedback could’ve been wrong. There are some people who won’t “get” you or won’t like you. Some individuals are critical by nature. If you recognize this pattern, don’t take their comments to heart.
At the same time, all feedback is valuable for something, even if that’s simply to understand how someone else thinks.