Master Class

Time for Your Review: How to Take Criticism Better


Rather than avoiding difficult bosses and competitive co-workers, the authors of Thanks for the Feedback argue, everyone needs to learn to take criticism better. Here’s how:

1. Know what’s upsetting you
If you don’t want to hear something, determine why. Does the criticism feel untrue, unfair, or unhelpful? Does the person saying it have questionable motives? Is the feedback threatening your own identity? “Sorting out what set [these triggers] off is key to managing our reactions,” write Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen.

2. Figure out what you respond to best
There are three kinds of feedback: Appreciation is positive validation that makes you feel worthwhile; coaching helps you increase knowledge and sharpen skills; evaluation—or analytical assessment—sets up expectations. Aim to “be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered.”

3. Be aware of how you come across at work
“There is a gap between the self we think we present and the way others see us.” You can try to pay attention to your facial expressions, voice, and behaviors when being confronted. But it’s better to ask trusted colleagues for candid pointers. Start by having them share how they think you get in your own way.

4. Recognize if you take things too personally
“Understanding your tendencies helps you improve your ability to weather the storm of negative feedback.” We all have different emotional reactions and recovery times to criticism, depending on our brain chemistry.

5. Stop exaggerating
Doing so is “one of the biggest blocks to receiving feedback well.” Think about how you typically respond to a performance review, then slow things down and avoid all-or-nothing thinking. When in doubt, reach out to a champion of your work who can help put a critic’s view in perspective.

6. Ignore it. Sometimes
“Being able to establish limits … is crucial to your well-being and the health of your relationships.” Be firm when setting different boundaries, such as: “I appreciate your coaching, but I might ignore it”; “This is a sensitive subject. I need space”; or, “Please, no feedback. Our relationship depends on it.”

7. When giving feedback, follow the same rules
“Hold people accountable by showing people how you hold yourself accountable.” The best givers encourage honest conversation about their blind spots, are aware of their missteps, and ask for help along the way. Model healthy responses with your own actions.

Van Syckle is a Bloomberg Businessweek contributor.

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