No one likes to be criticized. It’s embarrassing to make a mistake and hurtful to hear your performance has been less than optimal. But to be human is to be imperfect, so constructive criticism is part of every job. And tough feedback is not just an unpleasant fact of life, it’s an invitation to increase self-awareness and make positive changes.
Take these steps to deal with tough feedback in a positive and helpful way.
Don’t React Defensively
To avoid the negative feelings criticism provokes, we often rush to defensiveness. We try to deflect blame and find another culprit or point out flaws in the person criticizing us. However, this is not the most productive way to cope with tough feedback. Let yourself feel the uncomfortable emotions of shame, hurt, fear and whatever else arises as you listen to criticism. Feel them and then move on because discomfort leads to growth.
Get a Second Opinion
Instead of wallowing in hurt feelings, take action. Talk to a trusted group of colleagues and friends who know you well. Share the tough feedback you received and ask them to help you assess it honestly. Ask them questions such as, “Which aspects seem accurate? Are there any parts that seem unfair? How can I use the strengths I already have to address the criticism I received?”
Look for an Opportunity to Learn
After talking with friends, take time to reflect on the conclusions you reached. Useful criticism is constructive, meaning it should assist you in strengthening specific areas of your work performance. Brainstorm ideas for changes that will address the criticism. Then write down a step-by-step plan that will see you through the change from beginning to end.
If you have a good relationship with your boss, you could even ask her to weigh in on your plan and make suggestions.
Keep a Greater Good in Mind
Research shows having a sense of purpose is one of the job qualities that make people happier at work. Think about the greater good you serve in your career. It could be helping clients, working on important scientific research, or something personal such as being able to support your family.
Whatever your greater good is, keep it in mind as you process the tough feedback. Knowing why your job is worth doing can soften the blow of criticism and motivate you to take action to change.
Say Thank You
It may seem counter-intuitive, but an expression of gratitude is a powerful way to finish a difficult conversation. If you were too surprised or hurt to say thank you in the moment, you can still send a brief email later.
Most managers who take the time to give constructive criticism genuinely want you to succeed, so thanking them is appropriate. It will also help you feel better by focusing your mind on a positive thought rather than the negative emotions the feedback may have aroused in you.