Think of criticism as a gift, then follow these steps, and you'll bestow and receive it with ease
Greg ClarkeI'll never forget the first performance review I ever received. I wish I could. I was 25 years old and a marketing planner at Avon (a company that I miraculously stayed with for more than 20 years), and it was a doozy. The review lasted 2 1/2 hours, and by the time it was over I had a terrible migraine, felt like throwing up, and asked my boss (we'll call him Ken) if I should leave the company.
What went wrong? Well, for one thing, Ken wasn't much older than I was, and he'd had about as much practice giving feedback as I'd had getting it. He quickly glossed over my single strong point and hammered away at my major weakness: "You're certainly creative, Gail. But you've got a lack of knowledge about the operational side of our business. A total lack of knowledge."
As for me, I was so busy taking everything personally and being appalled that I was so very far from perfect that I barely heard anything except the negative criticism. I can still remember the look on Ken's face when I asked if I should resign. He went white. I went home in tears and told my husband, Jim, that I would have to find another job. What a disaster!
It doesn't matter whether you're at work or at home ("You just can't seem to meet a deadline"; "Honey, you never put out the trash"). Giving -- and taking -- criticism is a tricky business. Chastise instead of motivate and the situation can backfire. On the receiving end, our instinct to bristle and get defensive can ruin a real opportunity to make a positive change. But, as with most things, it doesn't have to be hard. The number one ingredient for success is to treat the "feedback moment" for what it is: a gift.
I mean, how amazing would it be if we actually had the power to see ourselves as others see us? We don't, of course, so we have to rely on others to give us feedback so we can catch a glimpse. Once you adopt the mind-set that criticism really is something to be given and received -- and to be grateful for -- the whole exchange can be, well, almost enjoyable. Here's how to make it work for you.
Three Steps for Taking Feedback
Step 1: Listen Up! There's no way to overemphasize this point. Don't argue or take the "But that's not true, what about…?" stance. Remember -- just about everyone needs a little adjustment now and then.
- At the Office: If you can, take notes so you can review them later. Look for the nuggets of wisdom. You don't have to agree with everything; just don't disagree out loud. You can always request another meeting if, after calm consideration, you want to revisit some points. (Even then, try not to complain. Take a positive approach: "These layoffs in our department are keeping us from getting work done on time. If you could be a little flexible about deadlines, that would be terrific.") (Learn What Not to Tell Your Boss.)
- At Home: Recently, Abigail, our younger daughter, said, "Mom, when you tell a story, you go on and on. You need to get to the point sooner." I blurted out, "No, I don't," and explained why my method was right.
"Just trying to help," she said.
Don't do what I did. Assume the feedback giver has a good point and try his or her suggestion on for size.
Step 2: Resist The Temptation to Prove Them Wrong.
Look -- you can always get someone to call the feedback "bunk." And then you can decide not to make any changes at all. (Good luck with that approach.)
- At the Office: Don't run to a coworker and say, "You're never going to believe what so-and-so said about me." You'll find plenty of people who will agree with you if you look for them. Don't look.
- At Home: It's the same deal. The minute Abigail offered her critique of my storytelling, I ran to Jim, who, fearing for his life, said, "I think your stories are perfect the way they are." Giving me the perfect excuse to do nothing. (Learn How to Handle Sticky Parenting Situations.)
Step 3: Be Open to Making Significant Changes.
Maybe there are more effective ways for you to come across that are different from your standard act. And maybe you can learn some new skills and adopt some new techniques without compromising who you already are. You're not stuck with any one style of communicating, managing, or mothering. You can change anything, anytime you want to. And it just might be fun -- even rewarding.
- At the Office: The key here is to think, Sure, I can do that. And then go ahead and say it. It will be music to your manager's ears.
- At Home: Well, Abigail was right, as it turns out. And I'm working on it. I may have the gift of the gab, but she gave me a great gift with her feedback. And with that in mind, well, I'd better leave it right there.
More from Real Simple:
How to Think on Your Feet
How to Thrive in Tough Times
The Power of Praise