Receiving a feedback is not an easy task, even when it is entirely accurate. I guess I was not born with the trait to take constructive criticism graciously and I’ve always envied those who can. As soon as I hear words of critique, my heart beats faster and my mind begins to race, first searching for an explanation for this assault on my person and then for a retort to justify whatever action is in question.
And it seems I’m not alone. Unfortunately, on the spur of the moment, many of us react with defensiveness and anger or – even worse – attack the person giving us feedback. But the truth is, we need to get over it. We know there’s value in constructive criticism and being able to handle it calmly will only help us develop both personally and professionally.
Here’s a six-step process which you can use to take constructive criticism with tact and grace the next time you receive from your manager or a peer.
How to Take Constructive Criticism Gracefully and with Appreciation
Stop Your Immediate Reaction
At the first sign of criticism, before doing anything – stop. Try not to react at all! You’ll have about one second to stop yourself from reacting. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s sufficient time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or a reactive quip and remind yourself to keep cool.
Remember the Benefit of Feedback
Now, you have some time to quickly remind yourself of the benefits of getting constructive criticism – namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships, and to help you meet the expectations that your employer, colleagues, and others have of you.
You should also try to restrict any reaction you’re having to the person who’s giving the feedback. It can be a Herculean task to take criticisms from a co-worker, a peer, or someone that you don’t fully respect. But remember, accurate and constructive criticism comes even from flawed sources.
Listen for Understanding
As the person shares feedback with you, listen intently. Let the person share their complete thoughts, without interruption. Remember to fight back any urge to retort. When they’re done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” At this point, avoid analyzing or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding their comments and perspective. And give the advantage of the doubt there – hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to someone else. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous and may not express their thoughts perfectly.
This is a hard part. Saying “Thank You”. Look the person in the eyes and thank them for sharing their feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this – be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the statement, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort they took to evaluate you and share their thoughts.
Ask for Specifics
You’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. Avoid engaging in a debate; instead, ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them. Demonstrate with your words and manner that you’re sincerely open to feedback. For instance, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:
- Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
- Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You’re right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
- Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
- Seek specific solutions to address the feedback: “I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”
Request Time to Follow Up
Hopefully, by this point in the conversation, you can agree on the issues that were raised. Once you articulate what you’ll do going forward, and thank the person again for the feedback, you can close the conversation and move on.
That said, if it’s a bigger issue, or something presented by someone very important, like your boss, you may want to ask for a follow-up meeting. Then you can ask more questions and get agreement on next steps. And that’s OK – it’ll give you time to process the feedback, seek advice from others, and think about solutions.
Nobody’s perfect. From time to time, we all need others to let us know when we aren’t measuring up to our potential. Often constructive criticism, negative feedback or whatever you want to call it is essential to learn about our weaknesses. When we’re defensive, instead of accepting and gracious, we run the risk of missing out on this important insight. Remember, feedback is not easy to give and it’s certainly not easy to receive, but it will help us now and in the long run.
This article is a reiteration of “Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ” by Nicole Lindsay for The Muse.