Tips for Taking Criticism

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End-of-the-year performance reviews are here. Unfortunately it’s not all good news. How do you maintain your composure when you’re receiving negative feedback or criticism? How do you communicate that you are receptive to their critique?

Here are six tips to help you through your annual review or any other occasion when you receive criticism.

1. Take a breath

When I hear criticism I often feel a pang in my gut, especially when the feedback is unexpected or when the critic does not express it in the kindest, gentlest way. If you are shocked, disappointed or crestfallen, your first concern is to remain calm and not let on that you feel that way. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you are okay no matter what, and stay open to the feedback.

2. Don’t take it personally

Don’t take it personally, but do take it seriously. Negative feedback is not a commentary on your worth as a person. It can be useful information to help you do your job better and advance your career, but take it as just that. It’s information, not a judgment. Try to look at negative feedback as a problem to solve, not as a personal reproach.

3. Focus on the facts

You’re probably going to feel a range of uncomfortable emotions such as shock, sadness, anger, fear, etc. Try to acknowledge that you are having strong feelings, hold onto them, then deal with them for later when you are alone or talking with a trusted friend.

While you are with the reviewer focus on the facts. Try to hear the specifics of the situation and address those for the time being. It will help depersonalize the experience and allow you to take in the information more readily.

4. Reflect back what you hear

When you hear a critique, reflect it back in your own words. This gives your reviewer the opportunity to correct you if you didn’t understand what he or she meant, and will also help you to take ownership of the issue. It is natural to want to push away the information as it can feel threatening. Repeating it yourself helps you to defuse the intensity surrounding the feedback and helps you start to accept it.

5. Watch your body language

You want to show that you are open to improving, so make sure your body language communicates that. When you first hear the feedback, taking a deep breath will help you maintain a neutral facial expression. You don’t want your face to drop, to frown or to scowl, so try to keep your face relaxed with an open expression. Maintain eye contact with your reviewer. Watch your posture (inclining forward rather than leaning back) and the position of your arms (open and relaxed, not crossed on your chest.) Your body should communicate openness and receptivity.

6. Partner with them

Ask your reviewer if he or she has any suggestions for how you might improve in the areas discussed. Enlisting him or her to help makes you partners moving towards the same goal. He or she will see your enthusiasm for and openness to developing yourself, and you will have created an influential ally.

If you are one of the lucky ones who will not have a performance review, try out these tips the next time you receive any type of criticism. Why not make negative feedback easier to tolerate and turn it into an opportunity for growth?

Until the next time…

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