How to receive CONSTRUCTIVE criticism

IJMm-app-icon-logoDon’t let the title fool you. Normally, the fact that you are receiving something means that it is being given and under normal circumstances, we cannot alter what is being given because well, it’s being given. We typically just accept what we are given and then maybe change it later…after we have received. Rarely do we control the process by which we receive something. I am challenging that today and you are probably going to have a paradigm shift by the time you finish reading this.

When you receive criticism, unlike other things, you CAN determine HOW you would like to receive it and what parts of it you would like to keep. When someone gives you something, it’s usually rude to say I’ll take this part of the gift but not that part” or  “I know you’ve given me a nice shirt but I think it’ll be more useful to me if I use it as a hand towel in my bathroom.

Not so for constructive criticism, YOU can and are in fact, RESPONSIBLE for how you receive the constructive criticism and its effect on your life. In other words, YOU are the one that makes the criticism constructive…or not.

It is not the intention of the person that determines whether or not criticism is constructive, it is YOUR processing centers and the way you process information, that determines whether or not criticism has been constructive or not.

Follow these rules and you will actually be able to:

1)      FIND the constructive part of any criticism and toss out what is not

2)      IDENTIFY additional value that was not even directly offered from the criticism

3)     SHOW those who give you criticism or feedback how YOU would like them to receive your feedback when its your turn to give it

Here we go: How to receive constructive criticism

1)      Start the conversation by remembering that you own the process of interpretation: No matter how sincere or convinced someone is that you are doing something wrong, you still own the process of interpretation….there is still a transfer of information from their mind (how they see it) to yours (how you interpret what they communicate). This is important to do because (a) what they intended to communicate may not come out the way they intended and incomplete information often time as good and bad information and (b) you have more information about yourself than anyone else does. So remember that you own the right and process of interpretation. You still have the last word. This helps you keep your defensiveness at bay.

2)      Remember that the person is probably nervous about having an awkward conversation. The people who truly care about us are wired to always tell us positive things. That we look good, that we ARE good, and we do good etc. If someone truly cares about you, know that it is difficult for them to tell you something that is the opposite of that or something they think may make you uncomfortable. So help the situation… both through your verbal and non-verbal communication, let them know it’s ok to open up to you and talk to you. Knowing that you are not going to get angry or overreact or have a fit will put them at ease and even help them get to the point faster as opposed to that awkward dance people do when they beat around the bush trying to soften the blow and gauge your reaction.

 3)      Focus on truth and facts, not feelings: Sometimes when we receive criticism, we judge it by how we FEEL about who is giving us the feedback or by what we are hearing. Yea that’s important but not as important as whether or not what we are hearing is actually true….and if what they are telling us is true, then our feelings about it or them should matter less. When you are receiving constructive feedback, the more you can take the negative emotions out of the conversation and focus on the truth they are speaking, the more at ease they will feel (and appreciate you for it), the easier and faster you will be able to improve, and the faster that awkwardness in the atmosphere disappears after the conversation.

4)      Determine if the person is giving a personal opinion, or if they are trying to represent public opinion: Most times when people give criticism that looks like public opinion, it is usually personal opinion. They make it sound like “public opinion” so that if you react negatively to what they say, you won’t point the verbal or emotional gun at them.  So knowing that what your friend means is that he/she personally thinks you could do better at your dressing, is more manageable than feeling that the entire village thinks you are a rag collector. That said, you must always be courageous enough to make people comfortable about talking to you without the fear of you having a fit. I know…easier said than done

5)      Look for what is NOT being said: This is about understanding body language and seeing how the person (the giver of the feedback) is reacting and feeling about the feedback they are giving. It helps you get better interpretation about what is being said. For example, You’ll be able to tell if someone genuinely cares about you or if they just like to hear themselves talk.

6)      Look for the missing pieces of the feedback…especially definitions:Often time, people are not as articulate as they think or hope they are. Even when they are articulate, they may be so uncomfortable having the conversation that they say as little as possible so they can dash out of the conversation as quickly as they can. Problem is…that can leave you super confused. So don’t be afraid to ask for SPECIFICS.

So…when you hear something like “Everyone thinks your plan is not solid” you should be asking “who is everyone? My staff, my parents, the city, black people, white people, young people, old people, men, women, the country, people online…who is everyone?”.  What exactly does “solid” mean?

Or someone says: “I don’t like that dress on you”. You should be asking “ what specifically don’t you like about it?”

These are MAJOR pieces of information that you need in order to objectively engage in the conversation and make it actually constructive. So always seek out the missing information.

7)      Understand correctly:Literally repeat what they have told you in the way that you understood them so they get a chance to confirm if you understood what they were trying to communicate. So say something like “ If I understand you correctly, this plan I have is not solid because of xyz and it will impact abc this way or that way…am I right?”

This way, they get to confirm that you are on the same page

8)      Ask for suggested next steps: Ask things like “If you were in my shoes, what would you do immediately and why?”  This is important because (a) It will ensure you are not walking away with just a bunch of negative feeling and knots in your stomach, but that you are leaving with specific actionable points that may make you better (b) It refocuses the critic on why they are talking to you in the first place: To make you better not just to tell you about what’s wrong with you. (c)It forces the critic to think in your shoes. Having them suggest solutions will often make critics realize that change may not be as easy as identifying the problem.  (d) It shows that you have at least somewhat accepted the feedback and are not offended (e) By asking “next step” questions, you will train them as to how to give you constructive criticism next time. They will probably think through and consider things as if they were in your shoes the next time they offer constructive criticism and they will probably think of solutions before they bring up another issue.

So there you have it! Approach criticism and feedback like this and you will always have constructive criticism. You will OWN the process and always walk away better and never jolted by negative feelings negative feedback can sometimes cause.

(This was a follow up to the “Paintings, Instagram and Mirrors” article and that is a MUST read!)

Also read the next installation: “How to GIVE constructive criticism”

IJUSTMETME. Life…Enhanced.

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  • FH

    I just wanted to share with you that I was recently blessed by these posts on giving & receiving feedback. I already knew they were good posts when I first read them a few months ago, but rereading them just when I needed it really helped set me up for a productive conversation with a challenging colleague. We’re in the midst of performance reviews at my job and I had a feedback session last week with someone that I knew the conversation would be difficult. I decided to reread your posts on feedback right before my meeting cause I wanted to get my head in the right space, not get emotional, and hopefully leave the meeting still salvaging the relationship. It was a difficult conversation, but I kept remembering some of the points you made and what could have been a disaster of a conversation ended up ok – which is good cause i still have to work with this person for some time.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know the impact your work is having. I know you get a lot of feedback from people about how much they appreciate your writings, seminars, etc. I’m just super thankful you are not hiding your God-given talents and are using them to impact your generation for God. You keep doing you and what God has called you to do and He will surely lift you high!!

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