Taking Criticism Like a Pro
This question arrived from a reader: “My boss says I need to get better at taking criticism.”
Confidence when criticized:
Confidence is a product of knowing what to do next.
Close your eyes and imagine your boss giving you negative feedback. Get deep into those negative feelings. Now bring your best self to the exchange; how does the best you respond?
If you have trouble imagining your best self, imagine how someone you admire might respond.
Suggestions for taking criticism like a pro:
- Make it easy for your boss to criticize you. Most bosses don’t enjoy giving negative feedback. Welcome their insights. Assume they have positive intentions until proven otherwise.
- Gratitude is your first, planned response. “Thanks for saying that,” reflects confidence in yourself and respect for them.
- Avoid immediate push back. Pushing back, on the other hand, calls others to push back harder. It’s adversarial.
- Chill out. If you feel emotional, say, “This is hard for me to hear. Do you mind if a take some time to reflect? I’ll get back to you this afternoon.”
- Make few statements.
- Jot it down. Grab some paper and write it down in your own words. Writing is thinking. Show them and ask, “Do you think I understand what you’re saying?”
- Translate negative criticisms into positive behaviors. “I see you want me to _____ (fill in with observable actions).” Is that right?”
- Ask, “How will you know when I make improvements?”
Take control. Don’t wait for the boss to come to you, go to them. You might approach the boss once a quarter and say, “Do you see me doing things that hinder my performance or advancement?” Have paper and pen in hand.
Follow up later by getting feedback on your action plan.
What are the best ways to take criticism?
I take criticism best when I know the other person isn’t judging me. Their comments are genuine. They care about me.
Thanks Steve. I think the number 1 thing when giving or receiving negative feedback is determining whose team we are on…. Don’t bother giving negative feedback if it isn’t for the best of the other person.
Good post Dan.
The ability to accept and use criticism constructively depends on our confidence in ourselves, our abilities, our ability to continue to learn. We should always be open to constructive criticism, and as you have pointed out, be proactive in seeking it out to improve our performance.
Good criticism should not destroy our self-esteem, but demonstrate specifics about what we can do to imrpove and move forward. If your boss is only knocking you down, never telling you about the good things you do, that’s a different discussion.
Thank you Martina.
The ability to receive criticism is about us, not them. That can be a bitter pill to swallow. Perhaps we want to blame them because they don’t do it “right.”
Seeing ourselves as growing and learning is a great way to approach negative feedback…
When it comes to giving negative feedback… we might as well forget it if we don’t already have a positive relationship.
Yes, a great deal of the giving and getting, how its done and how it is received hinges on relationship.
Do you know I just hate criticism ! Don’t mind constructive feedback that opens up channels to allow for growth and development so long as both parties are singing off the same hymn sheet with a genuine shared objective to be achieved.
I guess it is always easy to give but not always easy to take dependent on the authenticity of delivery.
Thank you Imelda.
Great point about shared objectives. When people start giving me corrective feedback but they haven’t asked me about my objectives, I tend to let it roll off my back.
The first question to ask when someone asks for feedback is…”What are you trying to achieve?”
“Writing is thinking” has great significance in our life. I add one more- reading is feeling. And in the way, writing is more powerful than reading. I think the best way to take criticism is to remove fear.When target and source do not have fear, giving and taking criticism becomes easy. Even the more important is to ensure relationship with the source of criticism, if it is sincere. And the most important thing is the source and intention. When source is honest and intention is right, there is nothing nothing wrong in taking criticism positively. The person taking criticism needs more courage than the person giving.
I am generally allergic to criticism but work hard on it. I love to take criticism from trusted and reliable friends, relatives and colleagues. I try to maintain same relationship with them.
But I think all the criticism are not healthy and right. Many of them are superfluous, fabricated and intentional. We need to be cautious of such criticism. If taken positively such criticism, it can inhibits our growth and deviates us.So,authenticity of source is perhaps the most important thing that we need to take into account.
I appreciate your emphasis on relationship…
I hear you on the idea that taking criticism from the wrong person takes us in the wrong direction… nicely said.
Good stuff Dan. One thing I would add…It depends greatly on it’s source. Some are credible (proven over time) others are just lookingn for attention or to just feel empowered.
There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying, “Consider the source.”
I wonder if we might solve the problem of “professional critics” by asking them for positive suggestions???
I like that follow up Dan…wonder if that should be the standard…if you bring criticism (or a problem), also bring potential suggestions (solutions). That way you might avoid the occasional grenade lob…or drive-by critique. And the plural is intentional…one criticism should have more than one suggestion/option for improvement. Some might argue that it is up to the criticee to determine options…that feels like an easy out.
Thank you Doc.
Is criticee a word??? 🙂 Am I critiquing?
Love the challenge of multiple positives for single negatives. It’s the only way to create positive environments!! KaChing!
This blog is a gold mine. Thanks! Iʹm learning a lot.
On taking criticism…best advice my dad ever gave me? Three words?
Consider the source.
Is the criticism coming from someone you respect and admire for their own accomplishments or creative thinking or diplomacy? Be open to it. Write down what they say. Give yourself time to reflect on it. Let it help you grow.
Is the criticism coming from someone who lacks character and skills? A bully? No sense arguing. It will only escalate the criticism. Consider the source and change your situation.
It sounds easy. It isn’t.
Thank you Dauna.
“It sounds easy. It isn’t.” Bingo…
I see other contributors who share you concern and interest in the source. It’s easy for an “outsider” or someone who isn’t on your team to find fault and cast stones.
Let it roll off your back… if you aren’t being criticized you aren’t doing anything.
I liked the views of Dauna and the three words advice. I may add one more point if the criticism is based on the factual information/data/behavior, one should accept such things in the right spirit and bring the desired improvement with extra care and immediate effect.
I may partly agree to what you commented at the end. You can do right things if you go rationally, apply your knowledge, work within the policy framework and go with a consultative approach keeping the organization interest.
Might not let it roll off my back in the long term…2 reasons
1. Keep in mind that ‘source’ for future reference. You may not be able to always measure intent in the moment. 2. After a period of time, reflect on any potential grains of truth.
“If you have no will to change it, you have no right to criticize.”-author unknown
I take criticism best by pausing awhile, giving a little smile and think about things. Then I probe, ask question so I can learn more where I have gone wrong.
Nothing like a deep breath to help gain perspective.
As usual, great timing for this topic. My daughter and I enrolled in a boot camp physical training program and just completed Day 2. She came home and told my wife privately that she thought I was complaining too much and that it wasn’t motivating her. I thought I was just making fun of myself during my commentaries but clearly it wasn’t taken that way. Since my primary goal is to encourage her commitment to this program, I will be putting aside any defensive responses but I do want to acknowledge her perceptions so that she knows I respect her needs. You have offered some great suggestions for doing this, thanks.
Thank you Christopher.
I find building positive environments and relationships takes intentional work while negativity is natural… thats just me. Thanks for the reminder to speak support fervently and frequently.
Great post, and great list Dan!I have been guilty of immediate push back in my career from time to time. Still working on that 🙂
Thanks you Tim.
I hear you…first response can be… “No I’m not.” Perhaps not that directly but that is the intent… OR, “It’s not that bad.” I respect your transparency.
You are welcome. I agree with your comments. I think it is an instinct to quickly go into “protection mode”, or get defensive. Thanks again for taking the time to respond…
true criticism is a gift — how else can you improve? It never hurts to once a year or so ask your boss what you need to change to get to the next level. It tells him you want to rise, and also offers a chance for growth.
I like your ideas on how to handle it if it comes out of the blue though.
BINGO… Anytime I have tough conversation I’m thinking, I’m giving you a gift.
Feedback is essential to excellence!
agreed — I always preferred tough bosses who let you know right away when you were in the “doghouse”, to bosses who never let you know how they felt until review time.
I especially like tactic #2 as a “planned response”. I find it tends to be received by the giver of criticism as a positive and it also helps me to stay positive as I process the possible need for an adjustment. To me that equals win/win.
I like the idea of a determining ahead of time to have a positive response… Great planning. You can always come back later if you need to speak your mind…but always start off with a positive response.
Great suggestions, especially when the critic is a manager, or supervisor… having to address all of our potential critics would be a lost cause. It can be so difficult to not become defensive when presented with constructive…or perhaps negative feedback – one of the best times to exercise self control, and not jump to a response.
I see how the term “self-control” really applies and serves everyone well… especially if we feel defensive or angry.
An interesting post. Criticism from the superior is good if it is fact based and informed with good intentions. The tone of such communication also matters!
Pointing out any shortcoming or an error by showing the corrective step is admirable. Such communication can be direct and in confidence. But, this will depend how fortunate you are in having a considerate boss who is keen in your development and guiding you to bring correctiveness with few pointers on the lapses.
People learn from their mistakes and good bosses are even open to admit lapses on their sides if pointed by their efficient subordinate staff by way of suggestions.
Things are mutual and it all depends on the organization culture and the professionalism degree.
Thank you Dr. Asher.
I like the idea of creating cultures where feedback flows in both directions. I think it creates environments where negative feedback is easier to give and take.
I’m with you. Corrective action is a must if one is giving or receiving neg. feedback. .. Without positive behaviors negative feedback is just a put down.
I have difficulty with this blog scenario and others at times because the “situation” that is presented is usually that of a subordinate having to learn from or in this case take criticism from a “boss”. This implies that the boss knows best and is superior in thinking, acting, and understanding and that all knowledge has to trickle down to the team members. Time and again in my work situations, it’s the boss or manager that is in dire need of the criticism and yet we aren’t being instructed in how to give it and have them receive it, I find myself yet again in a situation where the boss is falling short in so many areas which in turn is keeping me from developing fully in my role. Fortunately I am not being criticized for my work which is making the situation bearable.
Thank you Suge,
You bring up an important and neglected point. Top down thinking is rampant and sometimes necessary but can be limiting too.
I’m asking my Facebook readers to give suggestions on how to give negative feedback to the boss.
Timely and helpful! I just gave my niece this same advice two days ago. And have forwarded this post to her as well.
I also told her:
1. Don’t immediately explain to your boss why she is wrong. First say, “tell me more” so you can get all of the information and show that you want to understand it.
2. Don’t assume that your boss knows how to be a great boss. Give her a little latitude if she doesn’t give the feedback well.
3. Ask her to help you improve.
Next day, my niece reported her conversation went very well. Her boss said, “Of course I’m happy to help you. It’s my job.”
Shows good intentions. But it’s not enough because nothing happened. My advice: don’t wait for your boss. Ask for an appointment and explain that you would like specific feedback and advice on how to improve around that feedback. Ask to set a specific, clear, measurable goal that will demonstrate improvement. Ask for regular meetings to review progress.
Hopefully that will get the ball rolling for ongoing performance conversations and developing a real coaching relationship as her boss will become invested in her improvement.
Yes, her boss should be doing these things anyway. But bosses don’t always understand how to do it and/or get so busy with day to day activities that these conversations go on the back burner. So, this is learning opportunity for both my niece and her boss.
Thank you Jesse.
Your contribution is a post in itself!
“Don’t assume your boss knows how to be a great boss.” Even if they are a great boss, everyone makes mistakes, falls short, or is better at one thing than another. It might seem weird to think we would help our boss be better but really, isn’t that important?
I’m taking away “ongoing performance conversations.” It’s a shame that performance conversations are relegated to once or twice a year. No wonder we start feeling uncomfortable.
Have to ask, who says performance conversations are ‘once or twice a year’?
If you are in that boat, you have one of the oars. Are you paddling in circles, not knowing, or do you have a direction?
Set up a regular meeting, once a month with your boss for performance feedback. You bring an agenda. Have a list of what you have done in the last month and what is on tap for the next few months. Find out if past/future is in alignment. Ask for both negative and positive critiques of work to date. All of that can be done in 20-40 minutes if well planned.
Hats off! Nicely said.
What a fertile ground for discussion, Dan. To take a somewhat reverse approach, I always found it easiest to give “criticism” when I fully understood the issue I was dealing with. This was when I was a crisis line counselor – I could give feedback in a supportive way because I had a firm grasp of our organization’s approach and we had been trained to give feedback in a productive way.
I have never equalled that in the “real work world” (yet). And I know that “defensiveness” is a true issue for me. When our organization’s management did a DISC analysis, my number one time waster (based on my report) was “Overreacting to constructive criticism.”
I must cut this short in order to respond to a work deadline but I suppose out of your list above, the one that most resonates with me is “how will I know when I make improvements?” Nothing demoralizes me more than an email that says something has taken “too long” or is “not specific enough” when no clear deadline or task description was given to begin with. It is helpful to know what the goal is and to get incremental feedback along the way to avoid that “blindsided feeling” when that’s not the case. Also, as hard as verbal feedback can be to take as well, an impersonal email especially if it is a weekend or non work time, can be a time bomb of emotional power — consider timing and method of delivery.
Thank you Paula.
More great stuff. Thanks for being transparent.
That “blindsided feeling” is clear indication that people haven’t received enough feedback… The more one wants to succeed the more feedback they need.
Gotta love your critique of email feedback when it should be verbal. Especially when it’s negative… It helps to see if the words are spoken in anger or in a supportive manner.
In a perfect world, both the critquer and critiquee would approach this interaction with unconditional positive regard. (yeah, I know critquer and critquee aren’t real words, quit being so critical—Dan! 😉 ) When a leader feels the need to give criticism, if some degree of positive regard can be part of the foundation, that is a good start.Timing is very important. Criticism over something that occurred months ago means there are conflict avoidance issues.
If your leader is not skilled in delivering the criticism, that I would let roll off my back, however, what is the meta-message? Your leader has identified a gap and cares enough to work with you to narrow that gap. Maybe it isn’t even your gap, you can resolve that later. So, timing again is important in responding to criticism. Perhaps a response is that you are taking this to heart, that you want to process this important feedback, and want to develop a follow up plan to share with your boss in two weeks (or less).
As others have noted, keeping the end goal in mind…the customer or the service is an important driver in criticism.
Thank you Doc.
I suppose my weakness at spelling should indicate I shouldn’t be casting stones for creative word choices. Sometimes I can’t spell a word right enough for spell checker to fix it… ugh!
Thanks for adding timing to the conversation. The closer to the event the more useful feedback is…
It feels very positive to say, “Thanks for the feedback, I’ll work on a followup action plan. Can we talk again next week.” Nice call!
I think it lies in your own attitude more than the other person’s attitude or intentions. When someone gives you criticism, there are two possibilities: it’s either true or it’s false.
If it’s false, don’t worry about it and just try to be polite to the other person. They may be jealous.
If it’s true, then work to try to fix it. Even ask the person for suggestions.
If you are the one giving criticism, then you should first be careful to examine the situation as completely as possible. You want to avoid false accusations and false assumptions. Be careful about judging someone’s intentions, too – you don’t really know the other person’s motives.
Thank you Joshua.
How many times have I ASSumed I knew what was happening when I didn’t… OUCH!
The problem with making assumptions is it’s hard to let go of them even after someone helps us see the truth… Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation.
Hi Dan, this post is helpful and I have tied it in to the email I sent (whosays) the other day. I liked what “Suge Says” had to say. I will admit that there were times where I was at a total loss as to how to respond to the criticism (aka “evaluation”). Many times I’ve felt like they needed to take a course on “Giving Criticism Like a Pro” instead of a “do as I say, not necessarily as I model.”
So, although this post is helpful when your receiving constructive criticism, how would you respond when it’s a no win situation? I hate to admit it (because I’m an adult and all), but when I know what coming I’d rather run! (lol….mature, I know). Those types of managers freak me out because I know that this isn’t usually for my benefit to “grow” as an employee.
I know, I probably sound like one of “those” types of employees, and maybe for some I have been, but I really have had a hard time dealing with managers whom would rather break you down than build you up. It’s almost like my subconscious regresses back in maturity and it’s all I can do to keep “standing” under all that negativity. I have asked one manager after being given my daily dose of “you are a substandard employee” talk if there was any positive that they could see? I remember, nope, not one bit of positive did I contribute to that company.
So, for those of you whom are managers, leaders of some sort….what would you advise?
I feel your pain… Negativity runs rampant and positiivity takes work and in my case lots of training!
I wonder what happens if you take the negative feedback seriously, develop a plan and take it to them for their signoff… How many plans could they see before they realize the futile frustrating situation they’re creating.
You might try giving them what you’d like to receive… give them lots of positive feedback and gratitude.
I’m not suggesting that many bosses don’t need a swift kick in the pants because they are so poor at creating positive environments.
Ouch Christina, hope some of those scars heal up. I hate to have to agree with Dan 😉 , however, I do really like the idea of taking the offensive. If you know its coming, beat them to the first punch. Email them about the mistake and set up a meeting or just show up at the door, but do have a plan. Create that ‘draft’ or ‘pilot’ plan of correction for the heinous error(s) committed. Own them, do a bit of a drill down of how/when/why the error happened and your tentative plan to fix it. If the reason the error occurred is more of a systems issue that others have experienced, add that in-because ti may beyond your scope to fix a systems issue. And do get them to edit to their heart’s content and sign off on your plan. Course it means you have to follow the plan, but proactive feels way better than reactive.
Doc, I thought I was going out on a limb with my suggestion and now that you agree with me I’m wondering how far off base I could be… 😉
Seriously, I enjoy seeing you wander around and joining various conversations… thanks for adding so much.
Thank you Doc and Dan for replying. Over time I did learn to impliment this practice in being proactive. In hindsight, I believe in some instances there was so much pressure from “above” that when I, a lower level employee, identify a problem (work flow, time, etc) it was easier for that manager to dismiss me, lable me, and put it right back on my “plate” so to speak.
In other situations, I believe that there was a lot of ego involved. I recall in one instance that management had my trainer come up from her location (another store) to “re-train” me, but lo and behold! What was actually identified was that everyone else was not doing what they were suppose to be doing; therefore, putting more than my share on my “plate” to manage, which was what I had been saying over and over. Needless to say, the corrections that were made when she was there only lasted a short time, and once again I became the “substandard employee” they had to contend with.
Very frustrating position to be in. When you work for leaders that operate in “denial” mode because they can, or it’s been accepted as “that’s just so-and-so”, it’s no wonder you have employees that end up becoming so frustrated that they get short tempered, which we all know helps nothing, and end up behaving poorly. Not everyone can handel working for “bullies” without becoming one too.
This is fantastic. Not only for a work environment, but for personal/friend/love relationships, as well. I am beyond guilty of excessive use of the “push back” – in trying to defend my honor (ha!) and insisting I did the best I could in the situation, I make the other person feel unheard and frustrated. Also, I feel resistant and uncomfortable at my childlike behavior.
I am making it another goal for the year to follow this post to a T. Free myself! 🙂
Thank you Laura.
I respect your transparency and wish you the best.
Not to make excuses… but 🙂 … I see many leaders who push back when they hear things they don’t want to here…In subtle and not so subtle ways, pushback says you are wrong and I am right.
I’m surprised humility has come up yet.
I started out writing copy, reports and grants – that is a sure way to invite red ink and criticism. I learned quickly that when I put something out there, it is the start of a conversation. I try to think of the beginning of projects and ideas as “drafts” that are open for interpretation, revision, and change. That conversation is a great opportunity for me to be open to new ideas and perspectives, and to challenge myself to create something more.
Thank you Katie.
Brilliant idea on transforming criticism into improvements… Love the thought that it’s a “draft.”
Everything is in process…so grow as you go.
I appreciate this encouraging post, Dan. The application that immediately came to my mind was criticism from those we supervise. I try to encourage an environment in which people bring their concerns to me. I’d rather hear it straight from the source than second or third-hand. I’d much rather have folks “manage up” and feel comfortable coming to someone who can do something to help than to have morale tank because of murmuring to one another with no resolution.
At the same time, the criticism from those we supervise can be weighty and can tend to come in waves during the most stressful times of the year (holidays, state assessments, etc.). Your post serves not only to put things in perspective for the supervised, but also the supervisor.
Thank you! 😊
Criticism comes from the Greek word “kritikos”, which means to judge or discern for the sake of improvement. You can’t get better without criticism. Learn to like it and you will be a better person. Check out my post from February – http://stratecutionstories.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/please-criticize-me-hearing-criticism-is-a-desirable-thing/
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