Knowing you’re about to receive criticism might be one of the worst feelings you can experience in a workplace setting. Your palms start to sweat, you feel that pit in your stomach, and suddenly you’re fighting the urge to cry. Maybe you messed up in a big way, or maybe your boss just wants to advise you on a better way to do something. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a big deal or not. What matters is that you were wrong, and people noticed.
Does that sound overly dramatic? For many people, it’s not. Receiving feedback or constructive criticism can be hard for a lot of people, even if it’s totally benevolent and well-meaning.
If you’re not accustomed to hearing constructive criticism, it can be hard to get past the initial embarrassment to get to the core of what the feedback-giver is saying.
Luckily, accepting feedback graciously and acting on it to improve your work performance is a skill that anyone can learn. To see what the experts have to say on the matter, we talked to Ashley Mclauchlan, a Senior Leadership Trainer at Quicken Loans.
Be Emotionally Ready
Mclauchlan stressed the importance of being in touch with yourself and knowing how you react to constructive criticism.
“Reflect on how you are receiving feedback. What is it that’s making it difficult?” Mclauchlan said.
She said that working on raising your emotional intelligence can help you to better navigate your emotions when you’re facing something difficult, like hearing criticism of your work performance.
For example, if you’re someone who answers the slightest hint of criticism with anger or hurt feelings, take a step back to evaluate why that is, then think about some ways you can avoid that spiral.
It’s OK to feel emotional, Mclauchlan said. It only becomes a problem when you let your emotions dictate your actions and shut down, rather than opening yourself up to what the person is saying.
Try to use your emotions to figure out what they’re telling you. Mclauchlan said that the more difficult something is to hear, the more you need to reflect on that and figure out why that is.
Be Graceful and Grateful
It’s been said that feedback is a gift, but Mclauchlan likes to take that one step further and compare it to “that Christmas sweater that a family member knitted you.”
“Smile and say thank you, and then figure out what to do with it,” she said. “What pieces are the ugly sweater that I’m going to put away, and what are the pieces they put a lot of time and effort into?”
You don’t want the feedback-giver to think you’re not grateful for the advice they’re giving you, even though in the moment you might not be.
If you’re having trouble with some feedback that’s particularly difficult to hear, Mclauchlan suggests saying something like, “I appreciate what you’re saying. I’m afraid, though, that I’m missing the message because I’m getting frustrated or upset. Can we come back to this at a different time?” Reflect on why the feedback made you feel the way it did, then schedule some time to go back to that conversation, this time with a clear and open mind.
It can be difficult to hear that you aren’t doing something right, but try to remember that the person giving you the feedback likely has good intentions. They want to help make you better at your job. Keeping this in mind can help make receiving feedback easier.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, people are giving you feedback to make you better, not to rag on you or make you upset,” she said.
Listen to What They’re Saying
Focus on the core of what the feedback-giver said and figure out what their feedback means in practice as well as what your next steps should be.
Take notes, and ask a lot of questions. Make sure you really understand what is being communicated to you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, Mclauchlan said. If you need the feedback-giver to recap what they said in writing, let them know. If you’d like to sit down sometime in the future to follow up, set up a time for that. If you’re not sure how the feedback translates into a tangible change in your performance, ask them to expand on what they mean.
Mclauchlan offered some examples of questions you can ask to get you started in the right direction:
- “How do you wish I would’ve handled the situation?”
- “What does success look like?”
- “How will I know I’ve done a better job at this?”
- “What impact is this having on the business?”
- “What are some things you’ve done that have made you successful in this space?”
Follow Through and Follow Up
Half the battle of successfully implementing feedback can be figuring out how exactly to go about it. Once you’ve asked all your questions and have clarity on what’s expected of you, make a plan to act on the feedback you were given.
Use what you learned in your conversation to map out your route from where you are to where you need to be. Then, make sure to keep up with the changes you make and avoid backsliding.
Mclauchlan said that asking a peer to hold you accountable and provide their own feedback on your progress can be helpful with this. Ask a coworker you trust to let you know when they notice you falling back into old habits.
If you can, schedule regular meetings with your leaders to check in and track your progress. Keeping an open line of communication while you’re trying to implement feedback will help avoid surprises and disappointments down the road and let your boss know that you take what they say seriously and that you care about the work you do.
Seek It Out
Ideally, feedback isn’t a one-time thing, but an ongoing process of self-improvement and growth.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, even if it’s outside of the times you’d normally receive it (like during performance reviews). Did you just finish a big project? Schedule some time to sit down and talk about what went well and what didn’t. Got a deadline coming up? Do a quick check-in to make sure you’re on track for success.
Mclauchlan said that useful feedback can come from just about anywhere, including your boss, your boss’s boss, your clients and your peers.
“We have to solicit feedback. We have to create an environment where feedback happens regularly,” she said.
Learn to Work with Bad or Vague Advice
Not everyone is good at giving feedback. People who aren’t used to giving constructive criticism can have a tendency to fall back on vague praises like “keep up the good work.” While this type of feedback might be nice to hear and helps both parties avoid the discomfort of actually having to address any problems, it’s ultimately useless in helping you grow.
Mclauchlan has firsthand experience with vague and unhelpful feedback. Before she worked at Quicken Loans, she was a teacher and received a lot of feedback, but rarely anything that was constructive.
She said that when you just ask for feedback without being specific, it’s easy for people to say something vague like “you’re doing a great job,” without giving you something to work on.
If you ask specific questions about your performance, not only will you get more helpful answers, you’ll also train that person to give you more useful feedback in the future.
Sometimes it’s just about making the person comfortable with giving feedback. This is why it’s so important to build trusting relationships with the people you work with. If they don’t trust you, they won’t give you feedback, Mclauchlan said. Once you build that trust, you won’t have to ask a ton of questions to get to the heart of what you want to know.
“As they get more comfortable giving feedback, you won’t need as many parameters,” she said.
You also want to make sure you’re receiving it well, as that builds their confidence and comfort with giving you feedback. That means that if you’re given feedback and don’t take it well, Mclauchlan said, you need to apologize and give an explanation for why you reacted that way so they know that you’re still open to hearing feedback.
Go with Your Gut
You’re not always going to get useful feedback. If you’re getting feedback from multiple sources, you’re probably going to get conflicting advice or advice that is just wrong. So how do you sort the good from the bad?
According to Mclauchlan, you should go with your gut.
“You were hired for a specific reason,” she said. “Go with what you think is best. As long as you can decipher why you made that choice, go with it.”
While it is important to consider the feedback you’re given, sometimes you’ll have a good reason for why you should do things your way. Just make sure you can back that up with solid reasoning, and always be respectful of the people who take the time to give you feedback.
However, if you’re noticing a common theme among the feedback you’re given, you might want to reconsider pushing back on that.
“If you’re getting the same feedback over and over and over again, you need to listen to the universe,” Mclauchlan said.
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Something that Mclauchlan thinks about when she’s weighing giving feedback to someone is the risks of not offering it. She said that we often don’t provide feedback because it makes us uncomfortable, and we let that outweigh the advantages of letting someone know that their performance needs improvement.
She said that the risk with choosing not to give feedback in order to avoid conflict is that it could lead to that person being dismissed from their job down the line because they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.
This can be useful to think about on the receiving end as well. Though it might make you momentarily uncomfortable, what are the risks of not accepting this feedback? What if, instead of hearing it now, when you have the opportunity to act on it, you end up hearing it while you’re being fired? You can prevent that outcome by being proactive and seeking out feedback and not shutting down when you’re told something that’s hard to hear.
Though it might be uncomfortable at first, learning to keep your cool and use construction criticism to encourage your own growth is a crucial part of being successful in your career.
Looking for opportunities to grow? Check out the Quicken Loans career site for your next big career move.
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