Criticism is part of life, but often times being criticized can make us feel like we aren’t good enough, like we’ve done something wrong, or even cause us to be uncertain about our future. People often take criticism as a personal attack, but in reality, criticism can often be positive.
Business strategist Kathleen Caldwell says we need to stop viewing criticism in a negative light and start focusing on ways we can use criticism to help us grow. “Criticism, or feedback, is really important because we have professional and personal blind spots, and we can’t really see ourselves as others see us,” says Caldwell. “In order to grow, we’ve got to be able to see ourselves as other people see us, and be able to take their feedback and do something with it.”
Avoid thinking of criticism as a personal attack. Instead, think of criticism as feedback. “Real feedback is necessary to grow,” says Caldwell. Without feedback, we can’t really know how well we’re performing.
Consider the source. “The feedback or criticism is really from one’s person’s perspective. They’re bringing their agenda,” says Caldwell. When receiving criticism, it’s important to ask yourself what the other person’s agenda is. Are they looking to help you improve, or are they looking to put you down?
Listen carefully. Fight the urge to get defensive when receiving criticism. Getting your back up will not help you to hear or process the feedback. “You want to be able to engage in a dialogue,” says Caldwell. To put yourself in a position where you’re actively listening, she recommends breathing deeply throughout the feedback to get your body and mind into a relaxed, comfortable state so you can actually hear what the person is saying. “If you’re on the defensive, it enables your body’s fight-or-flight response,” she says. Avoid thinking about how you’re going to defend yourself and open your mind to truly listen to what your boss or co-worker has to say.
Question what the criticism really means. Often when we receive critical feedback, we can misinterpret it to mean a host of negative things. Someone who is criticized for being late for meetings all the time, for example, may interpret it as meaning they aren’t liked by the person giving the feedback or even perceive it as extreme as their job being at risk. To avoid misinterpretations, Caldwell recommends making a list of the data points that were presented and then write down what you’ve interpreted them to mean. “Focus on the facts,” she says. “Don’t go to the drama of it.”
Determine if the criticism is accurate. Not all criticism will be valid, but that doesn’t mean you should always brush it off. To determine if there is some truth to what has been said, try to take a step back to assess the situation. Consider the examples given, if any, and speak with others to help you determine if the criticism is valid.
Ask questions. It’s easy to misinterpret things that are said when we feel we’re being criticized. Ask questions to find out what the other person is really saying. One way to determine if you’re interpreting their feedback correctly is to paraphrase what you’ve heard and relay it back to them, asking: “Am I understanding this correctly?”
Follow up. Be sure to thank the person for the feedback they’ve given you and tell them what you’re going to do about it. If it’s appropriate, make a commitment to take action and then follow up with them later to ask how they feel you’ve progressed.