Do You Make These Mistakes When Handling Criticism?
20th July, 2010
Criticism. We’ve all been on the receiving end of it…sometimes, we’ve even sought out feedback because we knew we needed to improve on something and then felt devastated once we’ve heard it. So, how can we process negative feedback better?
Firstly, it’s important to remember that criticism relates to a specific behaviour, it’s not an attack on you as a person. So while it may sting to hear something less than glowing about your behaviour, it’s helpful to hold in mind that the negative feedback is not about the very core of your being. Once the initial shock of the negative feedback has dissipated, it might be helpful to ask for some more precise feedback – so the comment “you’re very sloppy” may actually just mean that you make grammatical errors in your emails and is not a comment on how you present yourself at work.
Engage with the person who’s offering the criticism, it will help you feel like you’re part of a two-way conversation. It’s far more empowering than just sitting there feeling overwhelmed and it will help you regain some control over the situation. Questions like – “do you think I did such-and-such?” or “how could I have handled that situation differently” will help you to turn the conversation around into a learning experience and at the very least, allow you to leave the conversation knowing you handled the situation with some grace.
If you’re feeling very grown-up and magnanimous, you can take things one step further and acknowledge how difficult it is to offer criticism. If you’ve ever headed up a team or had to run appraisals, you’ll be familiar with how hard it can be to offer less than flattering words. A comment like “I know this is as difficult for you as it is for me” can be a very smart move, it shows empathy and allows you to be the person who makes both of you feel better! It’s going to be hard for you to come away with anything positive if all you can manage to do is weep into a disintegrating tissue, so keep in mind that much of the time criticism isn’t designed to hurt you, it’s usually meant with your best interest at heart.
So, now that you’ve accepted the criticism with good grace, what do you do next? I’d say pop out for a coffee or a walk around the block before going back to your desk. Give yourself some time to process what you’ve just heard so that you can decide what you’d like to do with the information. If you’re giving the negative feedback, suggest to the other person that they might want to do that and offer them the chance to schedule a follow up meeting if they’d like. You might want to take it on board or you might decide it was unfair and you want to schedule another meeting with you boss to chat about it further. When it’s constructive, criticism can be much beneficial than bland platitudes and it also shows that the person offering it cares enough about your growth to share the feedback with you.
Here are a few take-away tips for your next appraisal:
- Try not to cry, you’ll feel like you’re losing control.
- Don’t feel under pressure to give an immediate response. If you can buy yourself a few minutes to process the news, you’ll be in a better position to respond in a way that contributes to your growth.
- Always try to remember that it’s a behaviour that’s being criticised, not the whole you.
- Learn to distinguish valid feedback from throwaway remarks and shrug off the latter.
- Be big enough to acknowledge valid criticism that you receive. There something satisfying about being able to say “You’re right, thanks for mentioning it!”
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