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How to Use Criticism to Your Advantage

The truth can be triggering

Ever wondered why receiving feedback can be so difficult to accept? According to an article published on HBR, there’s a reason why listening to criticism, no matter how constructive, can be irritating and even painful for some.

Authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone believe there are three types of triggers that could come from the process of receiving feedback: Truth triggers—when you get defensive because you believe the piece of criticism is simply untrue or unhelpful. Relationship triggers—when you indignantly think the person giving the feedback is not credible enough to have a say in what you do. And finally, identity triggers—when the feedback given pushes you to doubt your sense of self and who you are.

Heen and Stone both emphasize that it is normal to respond this way, and these feelings—according to them— are inevitable in such situations; what matters is being aware of these triggers and knowing how to manage them when they emerge.

And with that said, here’s a few tips on how to manage these triggers and learning to react to feedback more appropriately.

How to receive criticism at work

It’s nothing personal, it’s a suggestion

Whenever we receive feedback, sometimes the first thoughts that come to mind are along the lines of, “how could he/she say something like that to me? After all I did for him/her?” or maybe even, “I do my job better than anyone in this company! Why is he/she coming after me and not others more incompetent than me?” Believing these thoughts to be true will only make matters worse—you become reactionary, resist the suggestion, feedback, or advice given, and stubbornly refuse to change the behavior in question. You need to understand that no matter the type of criticism or how your manager or colleague gave it, it’s not an attack on your character.

Instead of becoming defensive and indignant, separate and detach your pride, honor, and self from the feedback given and start seeing the intent and thought behind the criticism. Understand where the criticism is coming from. Think of criticism as a suggestion on how you can improve your performance and not as a jab at your character or the way you work.

You can take it or leave it

Just like how you shouldn’t just reject criticism or feedback outright, you also shouldn’t blindly follow or accept advice or suggestions as they come.

Managers and colleagues can admittedly be vague when it comes to feedback. Feedback such as, “be more assertive,” or “write better proposals” are subjective; what looks like assertiveness to you might look meek to someone else, and what a great proposal might look like to your boss might seem awful to someone else.

If you don’t really understand what your manager or colleague means by their criticism, encourage an open discussion about what exactly you need to improve. Remember to do this out of a genuine want to understand the criticism given, not out of resentment or hate towards the person giving feedback.

And also, be open to the idea that we all have our own perception of what “best practices” looks like. Even if you aren’t convinced of the feedback or suggestion given to you, try it out and see where it leads you. If it works and gets your manager the results they want, then great. If it doesn’t, then that’s also fine, because now you can report back to your manager and try a different method.

Keep your cool

As mentioned above, reacting defensively to criticism and feedback is unavoidable and considered a normal human response, but we still need to keep ourselves in check so that we don’t react in an aggressive or demeaning manner. By reacting impulsively, you are hurting yourself and your career more than you are the person in front of you.

Develop a habit of breathing and counting to ten as soon as you hear feedback, advice or a suggestion you don’t want to hear. And also, sleep on it—you would be surprised by how much better you’ll feel about your boss’s feedback after giving yourself some time to process it and letting it register.

Your growth heavily depends on how you process feedback

We all have our triggers, and we let it get to us more often than we would like to admit. Your goal here isn’t to stop yourself from feeling triggered, but its managing those triggers and learning to deal with them so that you reap the full benefits of these suggestions.

Feedback and criticism aren’t only a means of developing ourselves and our skills, they’re also a means to acquiring knowledge and understanding of the many best practices that exist in the business. Openly receiving feedback is a learning opportunity that will enrich your career, if only you learned how to be more receptive of it.

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