Taking feedback, particularly criticism, in a professional and positive manner is one of the most important skills you can develop if you want to progress both personally and professionally in your career. React badly and you can be perceived as inflexible or difficult, react well and you will have gained a valuable communication skill as well as having learned from the feedback itself.
It may come from bosses, customers, clients, suppliers or co-workers, but wherever feedback comes from in the workplace, the important thing is to respond well to get the most out of it. Whether positive or negative, it is a powerful tool and learning how to respond to it in a professional manner is the key to growing and succeeding in your career.
Take it seriously, not personally
When someone criticises our work it is easy to see it as a criticism of ourselves, but this is far from the truth. The fact that someone is taking the time to notice your work and where it could be improved is a positive step on the road to improving your performance and you should respond accordingly. Sometimes criticism may be hard to hear or unexpected and you may even see it as unfair or unnecessary but you can rest assured that except in extremely rare cases it is not personal.
Don’t beat yourself up
Keep in mind that no-one is perfect – we all make mistakes and there is a strong probability that someone else made exactly the same blunder you just did once upon a time. If you let yourself dwell on your failings too much, you will find it very hard to move forward, to learn from the experience and ensure you don’t make similar mistakes next time.
If you are finding it hard to keep things in perspective, try keeping examples of work or praise from superiors you were particularly proud of so you can look back through and remind yourself of times you did exceptional work and balance out your current gloomy feelings.
The first stage in taking harsh feedback in a professional manner is to listen. When we feel we are being attacked, it is easy to become defensive and to want to kick against the criticism automatically. Don’t. Interrupting at this stage may mean you miss the point of the feedback and you may even say something you later regret. If you feel yourself going red, your chest tighten or even feel rage building, try to contain it. Hear the person out and let them finish before you respond.
If you have any genuine questions about the criticism, feel free to ask for more details. Anything that will help you to understand why the person is making these comments on your performance will be useful. Don’t be aggressive, though. You are looking to show that you are willing to learn rather than spoiling for a fight.
If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. You messed up and everyone does it. Accept the fact that you made mistakes and don’t try to blame someone else for it. Say sorry if necessary. It’s one small word, but it can make a huge difference for your manager to see that you’re truly willing to admit responsibility and want to improve.
If you really don’t agree
If you are sure that you’re being objective and professional but you still don’t agree with the points raised, try to be as conciliatory as possible. State that you’ve understood what was said and detail the reasons why you don’t agree with them without coming across as defensive. Useful phrases in this situation include “I didn’t realise that is how this came across, I saw it like this…” or “I appreciate that it may seem this way, but there were other factors to consider, including…”
However, you must make sure that you let the other person know you appreciate them taking the time to give you feedback and take as many learning points as you can from the experience.
The most important thing your manager wants you to do is learn from the feedback and incorporate it into your future behaviour. This means not holding a grudge or staying upset with the person who gave you the feedback.
Take it on board and step up your efforts in the future to prove that you’ve really listened and understood. Look at it as a way of fixing the blind spots in your work that you would not have noticed alone and make sure that you don’t have to go through this again for the same reasons!