Receive the Gift of Constructive Criticism with Grace
by Cheryl Marks Young
Receiving feedback on your work is always an incredible gift. It can offer affirmation that you're on the right track. I t can also offer input to help you communicate more effectively or to take your next steps on a more clearly illuminated path. While accepting positive feedback is a skill most of us can easily cultivate, learning to respond to constructive criticism with an open mind and a dose of grace can take a little more work. Start by mastering these 8 steps.
Before you respond, take a moment to measure whether your emotions are in the driver’s seat. There’s something to be gained from this feedback, even if it’s not easy to hear. Bump your emotional driver from the front seat and engage your active listening skills. Remember, this about a project or a task. It’s not actually about you. Don’t make this personal.
If you feel the urge to explain why you made a mistake, stop. Unless this is part of a post-mortem break down of a project where understanding how and why is part of the process, the explanation is going to read more like a defensive excuse.
You may be doing a great job at listening with an open mind, but your emotions could still be running laps through your brain. Don’t assume what you think you hear is what is being said. Ask questions to clarify what you’re being given. At this point, you’re still in the gathering information phase, not in the weigh, judge and respond phase. Look for information to help you build context and bring clarity to the comments.
When we talk about constructive feedback, it’s easy to imagine how uncomfortable we’ll feel hearing the critique of our own work. Don’t forget, however, that this is not necessarily a walk in the park for the person giving you feedback. Even well-seasoned evaluators can be uncomfortable providing negative feedback. Just as it’s easier to hear praise than criticism, it’s easier to give praise than suggestions for change. Keep that in mind throughout this exchange.
No matter how good you are, you can always be better. Receiving feedback is an opportunity to kick your game up a notch to the next level. It’s your chance to improve and grow. Say thank you. Seriously. Being grateful for the feedback doesn’t mean you agree with all of it. It just means you recognize the potential value this gift holds for you and you appreciate it.
You’ve listened. You’ve clarified. You’ve showed your appreciation. Now it’s time to mull over what you’ve been given. While you don’t want to summarily reject constructive criticism, you also don’t want to take it all in at face value either. Take the time to ruminate over it. Weigh it. Measure it. Hold it up against your own belief system. Does this feedback seem true? Does your own honest evaluation prove the response to hold merit? Have you heard similar feedback from others? If you do decide the information is not accurate, take a moment to explore why this person may have come to the conclusions they did. Are you adequately communicating with all potential audiences? Did this person lack a clear scope of the big picture?
Make a Plan
After you’ve objectively measured the feedback you were given, it’s time to act. You may need to craft a plan to avoid similar foibles in the future. You may identify ways to communicate your project goals, objectives and measurement metrics more effectively. Don’t be afraid to ask for help coming up with your game plan.
If you’ve made a change, be willing to touch base with the person who offered feedback in the first place and ask for their input on your progress. When you do, walk through steps 1-7 again.