Transforming Your Ability to Learn from Critical Feedback

TSP • @myTSPnet


What do you do when someone offers you constructive criticism? Do you decide to not participate? Do you think, “They just don’t understand me?” Or to make things worse, do you argue with them in return? These are all common reactions. When you think about it, you’ve devoted your time to work, and now somebody is saying that it's not up to their standards. But honestly, you need guided feedback. It’s one of the secrets to improvement.

The key is to change your perspective: learn to be a diamond cutter and you'll never see critical feedback the same way again.

Consider critical feedback as a shiny new diamond. The rock itself may be unattractive to the eye, but after it’s cut and polished, its value becomes crystal clear. Think of criticism like that unfinished diamond — it’s not appealing at first, but most of the time that plainness will reveal the truth. Even if that doesn’t happen, it will still help you to improve since you can acknowledge how others view your work and have the chance to modify as needed.  

As a leader, you should aim to be a diamond cutter. By appreciating the simplicity of a diamond, you can transform it into something glorifying and then reshape that judgement into improvement — to do so is simple. Honestly, it takes just one sentence. It’s important to note how to control your emotions and understand everything you need from critical feedback. Whenever you’re given feedback, try this: "Thank you for your advice. Please give me some time to evaluate this and I’ll get back to you."

This process works because you tend to have different responses to criticism. Your first reaction to receiving a piece of criticism typically comes from emotions. By taking time to evaluate — typically about 24 hours — you can then react and respond with logic. If you’re the one giving the advice, you should keep their emotions in mind when doing so. That process should always include your audience and developing a message in a way that they see the potential for growth, not to be judged. If you’re on the receiving end, you have the chance to take the commentary and polish your skills. Better yet, be that diamond-cutter and restructure critical advice into something worth learning from.

Once you have had a chance to evaluate and are ready to come to the conversation to discuss, consider these tips to handling constructive criticism like a pro:

  • Feedback Has Benefits: Being open to feedback provides you the opportunity to not only advance your skills, but to meet and exceed the goals that people may have for you.
  • Listen Closely: Once you have understood the situation and the benefits of the feedback, you can now engage in the conversation and listen to their complete thoughts. For example, you can reply with, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” This response prevents you from criticizing or questioning their point of view. You may not realize that the person who is giving you feedback may be just as nervous as you or have difficulty expressing their thoughts exactly how they wanted to.
  • Thank You is Key: Even if you are not completely on the same page with their advice, thanking them will show your appreciation without having to agree with them upfront. You could say something like: “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” This will make them feel appreciated and heard.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions: Now that you’ve had time to reflect, ask questions and be curious. This method will help you get to the bottom of the actual issue and help to plan solutions versus attacking them.
  • Follow Up with Them: Hopefully by the end of the conversation you got the answers you needed to move forward and improve. If you feel that the issue is still unresolved, it could be useful to request a follow-up meeting with them to get more answers and come to an agreement.

Constructive criticism is one of the most effective ways to understand your weaknesses. If you decide to not engage in the conversation, you could be missing out on insight and potential growth. Remember, a diamond only sparkles under pressure — feedback and constructive criticism can help you polish and stand out as well.