Giving and Accepting Constructive Criticism

Criticism is a form of feedback that can come in two forms: Giving and Receiving. Constructive criticism, when used properly, has an end goal of improving some area of another person’s life, actions, or behavior. By and large, constructive criticism should only address a precise area in a person that needs certain development, without attacking their individuality. It should be a rational, impassive approach in an effort to teach and guide. In most cases, constructive criticism has the risk of being perceived as a personal attack, negative, and hurtful. However, there are helpful ways to approach this touchy area to decrease its danger, whether you are providing constructive criticism or receiving it.

Giving Constructive Criticism

To give criticism is a serious business development tool and sometimes a tremendous responsibility. Before you speak, always make sure your intention is to assist with a problem area and not to humiliate or demoralize another individual. You should ask yourself a series of questions prior to providing criticism, such as: Are you the right person to address the issue? What is the emotional state of you and your counterpart? Is this the right time to address the problem and the person? Is there an opportunity for privacy, so others are not privy to the conversation? Once you answer these questions, consider these ideas to make your constructive criticism more effective:

Clearly identify the issue at hand. Do this before approaching the person, so you do not initiate a personal attack on them. Bring up the specific incident, and do not tell them they are wrong or hopeless, but be more positive by saying something like, “This could have been handled differently.” Starting with a compliment will also help the person be more receptive, but be careful not to sound condescending. When you bring in positive qualities, he/she will see that you are not angry, and he/she will not feel like a failure. Feedback is not about insulting someone’s behavior; it is about telling him or her how they can be better.

Listen to your own voice and maintain eye contact during conversation. The tone of your voice can carry more weight than the words you use, so be careful. When you maintain eye contact, you portray a sense of sincerity. If you look away and shout, you will turn the person off, and they will not accept your requests and criticism. Remain calm, kind, and compassionate throughout the conversation, and end with a positive note, rather than just walking away.

Provide ideas and solutions to help improve the person. Giving criticism with no ideas for how to fix a problem normally makes the situation worst. Maybe you want to offer to help them improve something by asking, “If you would like, we can sit together, and brainstorm new ways to develop.” This normally makes the person feel like they are not alone, and that you really are there to help instead of chastise. Another approach is by showing them you understand their situation by adding something like, “I was in your exact situation” or “This same thing happened to me”. This will help him or her to make the appropriate adjustments sooner rather than later. It will also strengthen your bond as a team. Making changes is always easier if you have someone to support you.

Accepting Constructive Criticism

The ability to accept constructive criticism comes easily to some people, while others have a hard time tolerating any remarks that relate to their capability, skill, or overall competence. Yet, learning to accept ideas and suggestions that are intended to advance performance can be a valuable first step in becoming better and more developed. Doing so should be important for everyone. When you are in the workplace, it can have a positive effect on your working relationship and partnership. The key is to remain objective and try to learn from it. Here are some ways to help you accept constructive criticism more effectively:

Rather than thinking of your critic as an enemy, try to be as open-minded as possible. If you are too busy building up your defenses, you will miss the opportunity to be an active listener, which is the most important step in accepting criticism and learning from it. Most people put up their guard, close their ears to ideas, and instead try to formulate a counter in their mind, resulting in them interrupting the one giving the criticism. Resist this urge and remove your emotions from the situation. By not allowing your feelings to stand in the way of objectively considering the comments, you actually open the door wider, bettering your chances of improving a portion of your behavior or skills.

Recognize that the person offering the constructive criticism is doing so in an effort to help you, not harm you. When you are both actively engaged in your work and in your business, you both have the same goal in mind – improving yourself and the business you represent. Anything that can help you become even better at something should be considered a valued tool in achieving personal and professional growth.

Avoid any escalating tensions. Whenever someone discusses with you your setbacks or limitations, a sense of tension will arise. Normally, the natural reaction is for you to bring up other issues, past issues, anything to divert from the particular subject being discussed. This is not the time to do so. Instead, focus on the exchange that is taking place at that particular time. Of course, you do not need to allow yourself to be belittled or scolded, but if the person is providing true constructive criticism, that type of feedback will not occur.

If you feel the criticism is unwarranted, ask for clarification and examples that illustrate the point your critic is trying to make. This will help you see how your actions/behavior may be perceived by others without you ever having realized it. If you completely disagree with the critic, instead of entertaining an argument, simply state something like, “This is definitely something to consider, I thank you for your time and explanation” or “I am sorry that my actions were perceived in this manner, I will work on ensuring that that does not happen again”. Regardless of how you say it, just make sure you do not involve yourself in a counterattack. Whenever we turn our back on good criticism and tune it out, we do so at our own expense.

Follow up with positive action. After you accept the criticism politely, take on the responsibility of making changes. People often act as if they accept criticism, but then fail to make the necessary adjustments. Following up with appropriate action will show others that you know how to accept criticism and can put it to good use, which will improve your professional image and improve relationships.

Whether you are giving or receiving constructive criticism, remember that it is a welcoming opportunity to learn about yourself and the perceptions of your actions and behavior. When used properly, it is a valuable tool to enhance your abilities and skills. Although criticism does not always leave the best taste in your mouth, nothing prevents you from using it as a gift, one that you can use to become a more effective person and leader.


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