Are You Good Or Bad At Taking Criticism?

Whenever I begin a new relationship with a client, I always end our first conversation with the following words: “By the way, I want to let you know I’m unoffendable. If at any point something’s not working for you, let me know. I’d rather you say what’s on your mind and give me a chance to fix it, than have you sitting there thinking, ‘It’s not what I need but I don’t want to tell her.'”

More often than not, the other person says that’s how they like to work too and they’re happy we can have an honest conversation. And even the ones who are less comfortable with that level of frankness know that, should the need arise to give me some less than favourable feedback, they’ll be met with an open mind and not a furrowed brow and a middle finger.

It hasn’t always been that way though.

It takes time to take criticism

At the age of 16 I began my first ‘proper’ job as a junior graphic designer. I knew the boss had taken a punt in giving me the role (the only designs I’d been able to show him was my GCSE course work) and I was desperate to prove his decision right.

But while I revelled in any praise I got, affirming I was delivering the goods, any criticism I received (for which there were plenty of opportunities as I learnt the ropes) was devastating. No matter how small the issue, every critique reached my ears and was interpreted in my brain as, “You’re no good at this.”

That was definitely not what I was being told, but it was how I was taking it: emotionally. Full stop. End of story.

It’s a choice

In my immaturity, I didn’t see negative feedback as anything other than a telling-off. But as the years passed I started to understand that I’d completely missed the point.

Criticism isn’t there to tell you what you’re no good at. It’s there to highlight something you can get better at. (I’m talking about well-constructed, well-delivered criticism here, not the sniping remarks of someone who’s taking out their insecurities on others.) But it’s up to you too choose to see it that way.

Take the test

A good starting point for that is an online test I discovered which, after five multiple choice questions, gives you an idea of how you respond to constructive criticism – for example if you’re someone who focuses on empathising with the people involved, analysing why the problems arose or fixing the issue quickly.

Once you know how you naturally react to criticism, you can start to consider any areas that might need a bit more conscious thought.

For instance, if you go quickly to trying to fix the issue, are you overlooking what caused it in the first place and therefore where you can stop it happening again?

Or if you spend time analysing the factual details of the situation, are you forgetting the emotional aspect of other people’s feelings?

Or if you focus just on the relationships involved in the situation, are you giving too much importance to others’ perspectives while losing sight of your own?

Go further than the emotion

Whatever way you take criticism, my best advice is don’t stop at the initial emotional response. (You’ll always have one – I may be unoffendable in the long-run, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get a huge surge of “WTF did you just say?!” when I first get negative feedback.) Instead, take the choice to hone in on what you can do better, not what you did wrong.

What have you learnt during your career about taking criticism? Are you good at it? Or bad at it? And what tips do you have for delivering it to others? The comment box is ready and waiting for your insights. Thanks!

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