Ability to Learn

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No one likes criticism, but the ability to learn from it is key to professional and personal development. Learning to accept and learn from criticism is a valuable investment in yourself. The ability to listen to and accept criticism is a key component of self-confidence. It also demonstrates that you value what others have to say, and helps develop a sense that you are committed to what you do and to your own growth.

Wow, You Mean I’m Not Perfect?

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It can come as a shock when we get feedback that we’re not as perfect as we might like to think. However, one of the hallmarks of a confident person is the willingness to recognize mistakes and accept that sometimes we are wrong. The key is to keep the focus on improvement, not on defending ourselves or on the reasons why we did the thing we are being criticized for. When you accept that you’re not perfect, but that that imperfection doesn’t mean you are a bad person, you have gained a valuable skill. Remember that no one expects you to be perfect – they just expect you to be the best you can. And criticism is offered in the spirit of helping you achieve excellence, not to make you feel bad. 

Listen with an Open Mind

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Your active listening skills come in very hand when you’re learning to accept and learn from criticism. It is tempting to defend ourselves when we receive criticism, but it is vital to resist this. When someone offers you feedback or criticism, listen with an open mind. You may not agree with all (or any) of what he or she has to say, but it is important to hear the person out. Reflect back what you understand the person to have said, and check for understanding. Answer any questions non-defensively, and do not interrupt. Listen to understand, not to respond.

Analyze and Learn

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After someone has given you feedback or criticism, it is fine to ask for time to consider what he or she has said. Always thank the person for the feedback. Take time to analyze the feedback and decide what items you want to act on. Give yourself time, especially if you feel defensive. Even if you do not agree with everything the person said, see what you can draw out of the feedback that you can learn from. When you have analyzed the feedback, choose some action items that you can use going forward. You should then investigate training, courses, mentoring, or other ways in which you can act on the areas of feedback that you agree with or think are valid. If you have difficulty analyzing the feedback, seek out the help of a mentor, supervisor, or trusted colleague.

Clear the Air and Don’t Hold Any Grudges

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Even when it’s not meant to be, criticism and feedback can feel extremely personal. When someone gives you feedback, it’s important to clear the air and not hold onto any bad feelings or grudges. Take the time to thank the person for his or her time, and for caring enough to give you feedback. Affirm the relationship, especially if the criticism has been harsh or difficult to hear. Remember that, when people give you feedback, they are doing so with your best interests at heart. If you find yourself feeling defensive or holding on to negative feelings even after the feedback session, make sure to find a way to clear the air as soon as possible. This demonstrates not only that you are committed to your own growth, but that you value the relationship with the person who gave you the feedback. 

Case Study

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Everyone dreaded having to give Delia feedback. She never wanted to hear that she had done anything less than perfect – she always had a reason for why she had taken the actions she had. If someone gave her criticism, she would be frosty for several days and not want to talk to them. She seldom acted on feedback unless she got it from her manager. Delia didn’t understand why it seemed like people were attacking her, and wondered if this was why she was not being promoted. Her manager suggested that Delia try learning new skills around feedback. She took a weekend course and realized that she had not been listening with an open mind, and had been damaging her relationships with her coworkers. She decided to try some of the techniques she learned so she could learn from others’ feedback.