If simply reading this title is making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, you’re not alone. Just the thought of somebody pointing out a flaw in your performance or attitude can send even the toughest among us into a tailspin.
When I was young, my Mom and friends would often say to me, “Why can’t you take any criticism?” Or my personal favorite, “You don’t listen to anyone!”
I remember thinking to myself, “Well yeah...‘cause I know more than you!”
LOL! Thank God those days are behind me, and a distant memory of my younger self.
Of course, I know now that I didn’t have all the answers back then. After a year or two in college, I’d heard enough people comment on my inability to work with constructive criticism that it really prompted me to have a good hard look at myself.
I knew I didn’t want to get stuck at that low level of my personal growth. I wanted to pride myself on being approachable, the kind of person you could speak your mind to openly.
So, with little guidance or literature available on the topic of handling criticism, I took it upon myself to start listening more, and commenting back a lot less. And it worked! However, I learned over time that there’s a bit more to it than just that. One of the most helpful first steps was an attitude adjustment: Changing my thinking about not only the comments being made, but the person making them. I realized it was important to be conscious of the fact that the person criticizing me loved me, or at least liked me a lot and wanted to see me do well. As a result, I now CRAVE criticism. I seek it out because I know I’m always better for having heard it, and I know how to process it productively.
Looking back over my years of growth got me thinking about whether all of us women have the ability to hear, and actually RECEIVE the opinions of others about ourselves.
We’re successful, smart, professional women. We’re at the top of our game in our careers, we have fulfilling relationships in all aspects of our lives, and we’re proud of it. Why is it that we can be so easily toppled at the first sign of criticism?
So before you freak out, blurt out something you might regret later on, or lash out at the next person critiquing you- let’s deconstruct the process and talk about how you can turn this potentially awkward situation into (believe it or not!) a positive experience. You can even flip the script and come out of the whole ordeal looking like a champ with your head held high, having earned some new pointers for personal development and the added bonus of the newfound respect from your critic for how diplomatically you handled it!
As difficult as it can be to hear, there can be a lot of benefits in receiving constructive criticism. We have the option to be offended and get defensive, or instead choose to see it as a blessing in disguise, alerting us to areas we can improve on that we’ve never considered before.
No matter whether that person coming to you with feedback is important in your personal or professional life, it’s an incredibly useful life skill to handle the encounter without losing your cool. With some careful words and humility on your part, you can even turn it around into an opportunity to build rapport and trust, become a better employee, colleague, partner, friend or family member, and also improve your image and performance in all the relationships in your life.
So, next time you hear the conversation turning in that direction… The one that starts your heart pounding and your mind racing... Take a deep breath, embrace your power, and let’s level up.
STEP 1: PUMP THE BRAKES!!
Ok, you’ve been pulled you aside for a difficult conversation. Before you get all fired up inside- take a moment to compose yourself.
- Notice your body language. Does your body look aggressive, tense, or closed off? Try to relax and avoid fidgeting.
- Resist the temptation to roll your eyes, pull a dismissive face, or leap to your defense with a fast excuse or smart remark.
- It only takes one second for your brain to process the situation, and this crucial moment where you choose not to react will set the tone to make or break the whole conversation.
- Keep a calm expression on your face, and let them speak.
- Listen carefully without interrupting to show you respect their position, even if you don’t agree with everything they’re saying. You’ll have your turn to respond once they have said their piece.
STEP 2: DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY
This can be tricky, as it’s our natural reaction to go into protection mode in this situation. I know when I feel like I’m being attacked, like my actions or choices are being second-guessed, or that my character is being judged, I instinctively want to defend myself and prove the other person wrong. And unfortunately, I might be missing big opportunities if I revert to defensiveness. Some tips to help us all...
- Remember that they’re probably doing this to help you.
- When a friend or family member gives you some feedback, they must care about you a lot. They’re taking the time to bring a problem to your attention, most likely with the intention of working through it with you and helping you improve.
- You might feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed when they point out your shortcomings, but keep in mind that nobody is perfect and this is an opportunity to fix those problems and be the best version of yourself.
- If you’re in a work environment, try not to take their comments as personal attacks and insults on your character. Separate yourself mentally from your work, because when you look at it from the perspective that they’re making suggestions about your performance… not you as a person, it’s a lot easier to hear.
STEP 3: PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
This trick really helps you to get out of your head when your thoughts and feelings are spiraling out of control.
- Recognize that the person giving you the feedback may have drawn the short straw and has been assigned the task of confronting you. Ugh, imagine how they must be feeling.
- If it’s your manager at work, it’s their duty to address issues among employees, and they’re probably having just as much of an awful time telling you the critiques as you’re having hearing them.
- Consider that they may be nervous or uncomfortable, and therefore not be expressing his or her ideas perfectly. Give them the benefit of the doubt if they don’t seem to be communicating the issues as delicately or constructively as you would like.
STEP 4: ASK QUESTIONS TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT FOR COMMUNICATION
Here’s where the constructive part of the criticism comes in, and the growth opportunities become clear for you with info you can actually do something with. Now that you’ve got the initial shock out of the way, get down to business of working out the areas where you can improve so you never need a repeat of this conversation.
- You don’t have to agree with everything they’re saying, remember you’re not accepting fault or blame by accepting their critiques. This is the time to open the dialog up so you can go back and forth, discussing ideas to troubleshoot the problem.
- Make sure you fully understand the main points, as you may have been concentrating on keeping your facial expressions together instead of listening carefully.
- Repeat back the points they brought up, and ask for clarification if there’s anything you didn’t quite catch.
- If you’re at work: Say things like, “I hear you saying that you want me to increase my productivity/ provide more detailed sales reports/ communicate with head office more regularly- is that correct?” This will clarify that you’re on the same page with your understanding of the problem and be able to work out effective solutions.
- Make sure your ego is not in the driver’s seat.
- If you can confirm that you’re not feeling defensive, but instead you genuinely disagree with some of their points, you can communicate this to them and explain why. Just watch your tone when doing this, especially if you are talking to your boss. Try saying something like: “I hadn’t realized I was coming across that way, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. From my perspective, it seemed like…”
- Ask for suggestions of how they think you could do better. Share with them some of yours, or if you need some time to think- ask for it! They will appreciate that you are taking it seriously and want to come back with proactive solutions.
STEP 5: SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE AND THANK THEM
This might be a bitter pill to swallow if you didn’t feel like they handled the interaction as well as they should, or if they were dishing out some particularly horrific feedback that stung a bit.
- Sincerely thank them for taking the time to discuss these things with you.
- By showing the person that you appreciate the effort they’ve made to have this conversation with you, they’ll probably be relieved and grateful that you didn’t react negatively, and pleased that they achieved what they needed to. You are back on their team again, working toward a common goal, together.
- By reacting to their feedback in a receptive and upbeat way, they will see how dedicated you are to achieving a positive outcome. They’ll see you as a valuable asset at work, or as a loyal and devoted friend who wants to maintain a strong relationship.
- They are investing in you by actually bringing the issue up, rather than just letting you keep making mistakes without saying anything, and watching you dig yourself into a deeper hole. They may well have helped you dodge a bullet in a big way, so communicate your respect and gratitude accordingly.
STEP 6: TAKE ACTION AND TURN IT INTO A NET POSITIVE
Well, would you look at that? You survived! Take a moment to be gentle and kind to yourself. You may have heard some things that were difficult things to hear, and that’s ok. So far in your life, you’ve survived precisely 100% of the tough things you’ve been through. You’ve got this too. Here’s the good news:
- You now have some otherwise unknown perspectives, as well as suggestions to help you along your personal development path, professionally and personally.
- You can make some necessary changes and feel the satisfaction of knowing you’re constantly improving yourself.
- You’ve established yourself as a valuable and dedicated asset to your team at work.
- Your friends and family feel closer to you, as you provided a receptive environment for them to feel heard and nurtured.
- You’ve received confirmation that you are even stronger than you think. Let us repeat ourselves, just in case you missed it…
You’ve got this.