Taking Constructive Criticism the Right Way Greatly Enhances Your Image at Work

I used to stink at taking criticism … even constructive criticism. In college, I could sulk for days when my British Lit professor ripped apart one of my papers for class. I would stew with my other 19-year old friends about how the older generation just “didn’t get” what I was trying to say. But then, during my senior year, I got married and suddenly I learned how to take constructive criticism very well because … you know … I had to! (Technically, when your wife criticizes, it’s ALL constructive criticism, right ladies?)

Seriously though, as we age and gain more confidence in our abilities, we should be able to take criticism better. We can learn to listen to what is being said and then give feedback if we feel the criticism is wrong. This is a skill that can set you apart in the workplace, where taking criticism from certain peers and co-workers can feel like boxing 18 rounds of a heavyweight fight sometimes.

Very few people take criticism well. We don’t like to be judged or found wanting in any way. There’s a deep-rooted need to feel good about ourselves and the work we do. But, if we’re honest, we make mistakes.

Hopefully, the person delivering the constructive criticism is adept at doing it right and leaving the personal feelings out of it. When it’s done right, constructive criticism is a blessing, because we all want to do our best. Constructive criticism may not be pleasant on the ears at the moment, but later on, is almost always appreciated.

However, a lot of people are clueless on how to criticize others and their delivery of the criticism is like a punch to the stomach. They seem to forget the “constructive” part when providing feedback. But … no matter whether they intended to offend you or not, act as if it came from a good place … and not from the black depths of the netherworld.

Here are ten steps you can take to receive criticism in a productive way at work, no matter what form it takes:

  1. Learn to listen first and respond later, rather than reacting in the heat of the moment
  2. Keep quiet and listen to what is being said, even if you don’t agree. Avoid hostile questions and arguments about facts. Listen for both what is said and what is not said.
  3. View the feedback in a positive light. View it as a gift to help with individual and team development. Put a positive spin on feedback by referring to it as a “learn and move on” moment.
  4. Look for the truth in every message—their truth as well as your own. Remember, there are two sides to every story, so be sure to think about it from the other person’s perspective. The best negotiators in the world think of every negotiation in this way. They force themselves to look at all sides of a situation: How am I right and where might I be wrong? Where is the other side right?
  5. Ask questions if you’re unclear on details
  6. Separate the messenger from the message to maintain positive relationships. Don’t let your distaste for the messenger blind you to the message. In a similar way, don’t let your respect for the messenger blind you to the fact they’re wrong.
  7. Practice receptive posture. A receptive posture should be open—stand straight but not rigid. Don’t cross your arms in front of you … the classic defensive “I’m not listening to you” pose.
  8. Keep other non-verbal communications positive or at least, neutral. Don’t frown or wrinkle your brow. Use open hand movements and open arms, and don’t cross your legs when trying to convey openness. Nod at appropriate times, and provide vocal affirmations, such as, “Uh-huh,” and “Tell me more …”
  9. Convey genuine gratitude. Thank the person for the feedback, and say it like you mean it. It helps if you can follow up with them later to show how you are putting the feedback to use (what you are changing, doing differently, etc.).
  10. Wait to decide what to do with the feedback. Separate the act of receiving feedback from deciding what to do with it. Save evaluation and critique of the feedback for later, once you’ve had a chance to think about it and digest it. That could be a time frame of a few minutes to a few days. Request time to follow up.

The bonus to receiving criticism well is the powerfully positive reputation you get at work. You’re seen as someone who can be talked to and reasoned with. Your image throughout the company shoots sky-high and you’re courted to work on more projects. Not because you’re someone who can be bossed around, but because you are a great teammate.

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