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Last month, we discussed the best approaches for giving genuine, helpful feedback  to employees without causing hurt feelings or resentment. Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin: how to receive constructive criticism from others without becoming defensive or hurt yourself.

It is one thing to be on the giving end of an evaluation, but it is quite another to be on the receiving end. You can receive judgments and critiques from many different people in the workplace– superiors, colleagues, employees, clients– and they can range from gentle and tactful to harsh and downright hurtful. It can be difficult and emotional to listen to and take to heart assessments of your work, behavior or character, but with practice, you can learn to take away positive aspects from the criticism and grow in the process.

Taking Constructive Criticism Productively

1. Don’t say the first thing that comes to mind.

It’s human nature: no one likes being criticized. It’s unpleasant to hear the reasons you aren’t perfect, and the knee-jerk reaction for many people is to lash out with an angry or defensive retort. For example, if a colleague points out the factual errors you made in a report, you may want to snap back, “Well, maybe if I had a little help writing it on such a tight deadline, I wouldn’t have made those mistakes!” Resist this response. If you let your temper get the better of you, you will most likely come off sounding immature and unprofessional and you will regret it later.

2. Take your time responding.

If you receive constructive criticism in an email, you have a little more distance than you do in person or on the telephone. Don’t send the scathing reply you are dying to write. If you need a release for your frustration, write down your angry thoughts and then delete them without sending. Let the email sit for 30 minutes or an hour or however long it takes you to cool off and write a calm, level-headed response. If you receive criticism in person, bite your tongue, count to 10, take a deep breath and try to think of how to best communicate with this person. What is he trying to tell you, and what is he hoping to achieve from this conversation? Try to put yourself in his shoes before responding; if you need more time to calm down, simply say that you hear what he is saying and will get back to him later. Follow up after you have had time to think.

3. Look for the truth in the criticism.

Sometimes you receive harsh feedback that seems unfounded and mean-spirited, but often, there is at least some truth to the evaluations you receive from others. Take some time to think about what you’ve heard, and ask yourself honestly what improvements you could make in your own behavior to change the situation. Do you need to pay more attention to details so you make fewer mistakes in your work? Do you have a hard time with time management and deadlines? It’s tough to admit your flaws, but it’s necessary if you want to develop as a professional.

4. Find what you can learn from the experience.

Make an effort to improve after receiving the constructive criticism. Thank your critic, and let her know that you are taking her feedback into account and working on the issues she described. Be humble enough to know that you are not always right and can still learn how to do your job better. Keep in mind how you expect your employees to act following an evaluation, and do your best to make positive changes in your behavior.

How do you deal with receiving constructive criticism? Share your advice in the comments.  Communication skills training is an important component of any talent development program.

Learn more about EDSI’s Listen First to Understand  course.

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