Take a moment to think back to your first job or early in your career. Recall the eagerness and excitement you had to execute every task and perhaps volunteering for more work than was assigned to you. If you’re like most, you left work each day wearing your accomplishments, feeling a general sense of pride about what you had done to further the company along that day. You loved your work, your boss, and the rest of your team. You could see yourself climbing the proverbial ladder and retiring from that company down the road.

That is, until “it” happened.

The “it” in this case refers to criticism. A peer or one of your superiors noticed something about what you did or said, and took time to comment about it. Whether or not their intentions were pure, it probably still stung a little, and left you rethinking your corporate ladder climb and second guessing your standing as a prized employee.

In this series, we’ve explored criticism as an all-important aspect of human communication. Many of us dislike criticism because it leaves us feeling like we are being evaluated or judged by someone else. However, it is a part of human nature to evaluate and judge the world around us and the people in it, so it’s impossible to avoid judgment altogether. If someone is willing to share their thoughts regarding your performance, take it as an opportunity for personal or professional improvement.

“If someone is willing to share their thoughts regarding your performance, take it as an opportunity for personal or professional improvement.”

This sounds good in theory, but how does one truly be open to what is being said?

  1. Listen Openly

    Carefully consider each comment and suggestion for improvement. Avoid the tendency to rush to judgment about yourself based on the criticism you’re receiving. Immediately dismissing the criticism by thinking, “this person doesn’t know what they are talking about,” or “they missed the point,” means you will be missing out on some of the information being provided. Remember, criticism is nothing more than one person’s opinion of something they saw or heard. Some of those opinions may be valid and useful, some may not. However, it is important to listen actively so you can collect all the possible information about your performance.

    A part of listening involves paying close attention to nonverbal communication, which can often be more telling than what we say. When receiving criticism, listen carefully by looking directly at the person delivering the criticism and pay attention to their nonverbal cues.

    “When receiving criticism, listen carefully by looking directly at the person delivering the criticism and pay attention to their nonverbal cues.”

    These may be insightful into helping you to evaluate if the criticism is meant to be helpful and how strongly the person feels about what they are saying. Regardless of what the nonverbal cues tell you, suspend all judgment or reaction to what you hear. Be receptive and do not criticize the evaluator or make faces, other gestures, or jokes. People who do not accept criticism gracefully can repel others who genuinely want to help them improve.

  2. Ask For More

    Once you have bought into the concept of receiving criticism as a method for learning and growth, it becomes easier to interact with the person who is offering the criticism. Ask the person about any specific points you would like him or her to review. If the person did not mention an area on which you would like feedback, discuss the topic and solicit their opinion. Be careful not to attack or denigrate the person or the criticism, but feel free to ask probing questions to ensure complete understanding of the criticism received.

  3. Get A Second Opinion

    Evaluate your efforts yourself. You usually can tell if you achieved your purpose, and you are most likely aware of mistakes you made. Talk with others to verify or enforce the criticism offered. You will benefit more by soliciting feedback from others. Some highly effective leaders even develop a “challenge network.” A challenge network is a group of people within an organization who can be trusted to speak openly and honestly about what they have seen or heard. If you receive a piece of criticism that no one else can confirm or deny, ask a member of your challenge network, they will know and likely be good at providing historical details and context.

Criticism is difficult for our egos to receive. Our conscious and unconscious biases can make criticism difficult to give as well. But, criticism is a deeply social interaction, meant to be a caring and educational opportunity with the goal of helping the recipient enact positive change. The next time you find yourself feeling negative about giving or receiving criticism think of these three key reminders:

  • Knowing how to properly give and receive criticism is a hallmark of highly effective leadership.
  • Criticism is vital to personal growth, continuous learning, and professional development.
  • Whether giving or receiving criticism, keep the objective in clear sight and allow it to drive your communication with the giver or receiver.

Need more support in this area? Expressworks can help. Contact us.

If you’d like to learn more check out Part 1: The Problem Is… and Part 2: How To Say It.