You can dress it up with all kinds of new-age names. You can make it sound softer and package it in something we now call an “appreciation sandwich”. You can put icing all over it so it doesn’t taste or go down as hard, but in the end, you have to learn how to take it and give it without cracking up. Criticism.
Criticism is a form of feedback. Without some form of feedback that may feel, sound, and go down exactly like what you refer to as criticism, it’s going to take a longer time to figure out if you are on course or off track. How you handle receiving it from the people that matter the most (hint: your boss, their boss, or anyone that has authority or is in a position to coach you for the purpose of making you better at what you do and who you are showing up as) is a crucial element of whether people trust you as a leader.
Here’s why. If you can’t take constructive criticism that is delivered in the form of feedback in a way that makes the other person feel safe to issue it to you, they will stop giving it. No one wants to let you in on what you could be doing better to progress in your career if you don’t seem open to it.
We all have 3 triggers that go off inside us when we are receiving feedback that can cause us to react poorly:
1. Is it the truth? You may be pushing back because you dispute the data being giving to you as something you believe to be not factual.
2. What is your relationship? Considering who is giving you the feedback and whether your relationship is one that you trust that person has your best interest in mind is important in your openness to receiving the feedback, or criticism being issued.
3. Do you believe it about yourself? If someone gives you feedback that you don’t believe about yourself, you may reject it and not accept it. This can be true for criticism or compliments.
START HERE to get better at using criticism as a tool to be a better leader.
1. Know that you don’t have to immediately respond. Take a deep breath and relax. Let the words flow past you instead of sticking to you. Detach. Listen carefully, without emotion, so that you can take in the person’s body language and their words. This will prepare you for Step 2.
2. Ask good questions. Getting clarity on what the person means can be very helpful in using the feedback for improvement. If you are unclear as to why they are giving you the feedback or issuing you the criticism you could ask them what their intention is in letting you know this about yourself. You may also ask them how they think you could have handled the situation or done whatever it is differently.
3. Appreciate them. They took the time to tell you what they thought. It’s something. My favorite thing I have learned to say, even if I think that the criticism is WAY off base is this: YOU MAY BE RIGHT. It is a great way to respond to any type of feedback because it’s true. Maybe they are right. Perhaps, from their point of view and their set of experiences what they are saying is spot on. Saying, “You may be right” gives you time to process the information which is probably what you need in order to use it effectively anyway. This, however, is not a copout to process any and all criticism this way. Sometimes the person issuing the criticism is spot on and you just can’t see it yet.
This Forbes article – Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ had some additional tips that may be helpful.
You can apply this to learning how to accept compliments, as well. A simple thank you, at the time, is most appropriate. Show appreciation for a compliment someone has told you and take time later to consider why, if you felt uncomfortable, think about why that might be. Did they say something that you don’t think is true about yourself? Like, “You are really smart” except that you got horrible grades in school and your brother is a doctor and your sister is a chemical engineer and you barely passed high school. It’s interesting to consider that someone else’s point of view can be helpful in redefining what a word may have meant to us in the past.
At a deeper level to all this… WARNING: We may be entering into Kum ba yah territory. In the book, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the second agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. Compliments or criticisms. His argument is that what anyone else says about you is usually more about them than you. Spend time raising your self-awareness and constantly working to improve your skills, resources and behaviors. The more truly aware you are of the current reality of yourself the more centered you will be and alert to signs that you are on track or off track for the desired direction you want to be moving in as a leader and a person.
So, how are you feeling? Less like humpty dumpty and more like Wonder Woman or Superman?