It's easy to get defensive when you're feeling criticized. Here's how to prepare yourself in order to receive feedback calmly and professionally.
- It's easy to get defensive when you're feeling criticized. Why wouldn't you? But it's not great for your career to be known as the guy who can't take feedback. Here's how to prepare yourself in order to receive feedback calmly and professionally. First, one important thing up front is knowing who to take feedback from. There are a lot of people out there in the world who have an opinion, whether it's about how you dress or the way you format your memos or your public speaking skills. The best way to avoid getting worked up about people's comments is to decide in advance who's worth listening to.
Largely, this boils down to two categories, your boss and people whose feedback you ask for. Anyone else who gives unsolicited advice, not matter how well-intentioned, should be ignored. I'm actually a hardliner on this because we'd never make any progress if all we did was try to adapt to please people. Because most people have different opinions. "It should be green!" "No, it should be red!" And most people think they're far better informed than they really are. But if you respect someone enough to ask for their feedback, then listen.
Otherwise, don't. You know your public speaking coach knows what she's talking about. The random audience member quite likely does not. Next, repeat this mantra. Don't respond immediately. People often go into fight or flight mode when they feel threatened. And let's face it, criticism is a form of threat. So they get defensive, and want to go on the attack. They'll either try to smash down the feedback. "I don't come in to work late! "That was one day, and I was sick! "99% of the time, I'm there early!" Or they attack the person giving the feedback.
"The only reason the memo wasn't as good as it could've been "is that you didn't get me the numbers on time." That's just not helpful. Promise yourself that unless you had time to prepare for the feedback in advance, like a pre-planned performance review, you won't respond in the moment, and maybe not even that day. Just say, "Thank you for the feedback. "I'd love to respond to this, but to do it justice, "I want to think about it for a while." Then stop. If you know the feedback is coming and you can prepare in advance, it's often a good idea to try to map out the worst-case scenario.
That way you're ready if it comes your way, and if it doesn't, that's good news. For instance, let's say you feel like you might be on shaky ground with your boss. Odds are, you probably know why. Maybe she thinks you are late too often, or she's talked to you in the past about your presentation skills, or how you've handled a particular client. Write down all the things you're worried she might say. Now, write out draft responses when you're calm so that in the heat of the moment, and you're feeling flustered, you can fall back on that for what to say. For instance, it's useful to acknowledge where you agree she has a point.
Maybe you were late a few times last month, and let her know what you're doing or have done to change that. Maybe it's true that public speaking isn't really your forte at this point, but you've signed up for Toastmasters. Showing that you've thought about these points and are taking action makes a difficult conversation go way better. It's never easy sitting there and getting criticized to your face. But as long as the person is someone who ought to be giving you feedback, meaning your supervisor or someone you respect enough to ask for it, then it's for your own good, and it will help you get better.
As long as you can reframe it that way and try to calm your body down enough to listen, the process can help you become the kind of leader you want to be.
- Communicating with your colleagues
- When to use the phone or send an email
- Interpreting nonverbal cues
- Asking your boss the right questions
- Knowing when to listen and when to speak
- Communicating in tricky situations
- Handling an interruption
- Responding to critical feedback
- How to communicate as an introvert