Taking it well

Last week we spoke about paying attention to how you offer criticism. Some ideas were given about how to keep it constructive and effective feedback. If it makes sense to focus on giving helpful feedback, then it makes sense to focus on receiving helpful feedback. Today, let’s look at some ideas of how to do that.

An all too common way of responding to constructive criticism or an appropriate complaint is to become defensive. This usually looks like a denial of wrongdoing and a comeback of arguing or attacking. Often this comes from taking things too personally. Last week we talked about offering criticism that focused on the person’s behavior and not character. If you are taking something personally, you are probably thinking that the feedback is directed at your character or an attack on your personhood. Last week, it was suggested that it was better to say, “The clothes are dirty” and not “You look terrible”. “The report is late” and not “You are late”. “The food is oily” and not “You are a bad cook”. Well, sometimes you may hear, “You look terrible; You are late; You are a bad cook”, even if what was said was, ”The clothes are dirty; The report is late; The food is oily.” Typically this leads to discounting the feedback or finding something wrong with the person giving it.

To combat this, practice the “split second technique”. This is where you stop (and do nothing outwardly) and think for a split second to process the situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm. Ask yourself, how do I want to respond to this? How can I respond in light of the relationship I have with this person? This will give you time to think about the feedback.

  • Get in the practice of evaluating the feedback slowly. Chew on it for a period of time.

  • Have other people said similar things to you? This is a real indicator that the criticism seem is correct. Perhaps you already suspected it was a limitation.

  • Does the giver have expertise or credibility or experience with you to make their observation?

This is a time when you want to “listen for understanding”. You will be tempted to “listen to respond”, but this will most likely be taken as defensiveness. Right now is one of the times you want to encourage the other to talk. Active listening or listening to understand will help the other to explain or expound on what they are saying to you. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat back to see if you got it right. Ask for what changes would be helpful. If what we said last week is true (The whole point of giving feedback is to help the other person to improve) then the converse should be true-

the whole point of receiving feedback is to help yourself improve.

Just as you shouldn’t summarily reject feedback, you shouldn’t automatically accept it either. Sometimes you will receive feedback that is not constructive or helpful (refer to last week’s Monday Minute). Realize that ad hominem attacks say more about the person making them than about you. Rather than sink to the level of such attacks, it's wise to ignore them. It’s probably best to stay out of most fights that you are invited to.

Finally, thank the person who took time to give you feedback. It may have been just as awkward or uncomfortable to give as it was for you to receive. It is an uncommon thing to find someone who is willing to do this honestly and with good intent. Good feedback is as priceless as it is rare. It can take a long time to find people who know how to provide useful criticism, instead of simply telling you how wrong you are. Receiving it well is a skill that requires practice and humility.