Receiving negative feedback can be difficult, to say the least. Constructive criticism is meant to help you but can feel pretty painful to receive. Even if the practical part of you knows it’s for the best, the human part of you may still hate every second of it. Regardless, it’s necessary to learn how to take feedback well if you want to be an effective worker.
Follow these 8 steps to take feedback well at work:
1. Listen to it.
This may seem obvious, but it’s incredibly important. The second you begin to hear criticism, constructive or not, your mind may start racing with other thoughts that distract you from the actual feedback. “What gives him the right to tell me I messed this up? He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.” “That isn’t fair at all — I was told to do it that way.” These thoughts aren’t productive. Even if it pains you, you need to ignore them and actively listen to what you’re being told.
2. Don’t take it personally.
They’re not criticising you as a person, they’re simply raising an issue you might not be aware of. Their intention is not to hurt you. Don’t allow the experience to ruin your day or send you into a fit of self-loathing. Many think of these situations as discouraging, but you should look at it from a different perspective. This is an opportunity for improvement.
If you were repeatedly doing something in your favorite video game that took 30 minutes longer to accomplish than it should, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you there’s a more efficient way? If you were an NFL kicker who kept tying his cleats too tight, causing restricted motion, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you how to fix that? Think of workplace feedback in the same way — it’s someone telling you how to be and do better at work.
3. Don’t be defensive. (I’ll tell you how to do that.)
Even if the rage is bubbling up inside you, don’t let it come out. Don’t be defensive and don’t be arrogant. Remind yourself that you want to be good at your job. Remind yourself that you are not a perfect, all-knowing human specimen (if you need help doing so, maybe think back to your teenage blunder years for a moment). Confidence is a great thing, but so is humility. These are complementary traits after all — confident individuals take feedback well because their belief in their abilities doesn’t come from always being “the best.”
4. Don’t immediately respond by trying to explain it away.
Fight the instinct that tells you to come up with excuses for why you fell short in a certain area. Furthermore, under no circumstances should you try to shift blame onto another person for something you caused. Sure, maybe you were led astray by an aloof manager, or maybe you weren’t given all of the important information up front. Regardless, the person giving you feedback is just trying to bring you up to speed so you don’t keep making the same mistake. Even if you’ve been making it unknowingly, it won’t make you look better if you attempt to place blame elsewhere. Take responsibility and move on.
5. Thank the person who gave you feedback.
This might feel difficult if the feedback was tough to hear. You probably aren’t in the best mood after hearing about your shortcomings. Still, this person went out of their way to put him- or herself into an uncomfortable situation, just to try to help you be a better version of yourself. Understand that they were probably just as uneasy during the conversation as you were. You should be grateful they gave you that opportunity to become better.
6. Take detailed notes after the conversation.
After you’ve listened to everything the person has said and thanked them for it, take down notes on their feedback. Chances are, you won’t be able to remember every small detail. Having notes, however, will be helpful as you reflect on what happened (see step #7). Make sure to write down any specific examples or projects that the person mentioned. If needed, you can always look back at any documentation for those to see where you made the wrong decision.
7. Reflect on the problem.
At this point, you might still not agree with the feedback that was given. Maybe you think the person had a twisted view or didn’t have all the facts. You still need to reflect on what was said, though. Whether it was perfectly fair or not, it was a perceived issue by at least one of your coworkers. You need to recognize how your actions are interpreted by others. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I never liked her anyway. Who cares what she thinks.” You’re always going to have coworkers you don’t like, but that doesn’t make their perception of you less important. Discounting their viewpoint puts you at risk of ignoring a shortcoming that could become a bigger problem later on.
8. Identify upcoming situations where the problem could arise again, and create an action plan.
Now that you know where you’ve gone wrong in the past, you need to use that information by applying it to future situations. Look ahead at what’s coming at work. Is there an upcoming project that’s similar to the one where the issue was identified? Is there a situation coming up where you’re going to work with the same group again? Think more generally as well: What caused you to make the mistake the first time around? Asking yourself these questions and looking ahead to potentially problematic situations will allow you to avoid the mistake when another opportunity arises.
Like anything, it’ll take practice to take constructive feedback well. The best way to practice it is to ask for feedback from your coworkers. As previously mentioned, it’s just as uncomfortable to give feedback as it is to receive it, but prompting your peers will help them do so without feeling mean. Plus, it gives you more opportunities to become better at your job.
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