Being able to handle criticism well is an essential skill in the workplace and our everyday lives. We all hope we’ll handle feedback in a calm, mature, and constructive manner. But when the moment arrives, this often turns out to be harder than we thought. Psychologist Jan explains how you can turn criticism into something positive.
Dealing with criticism is tough. “This is because it says something about our abilities. About our values,” explains Jan. Fortunately, as the receiver of the feedback, it’s partly up to you to judge exactly what it says about you.
If a colleague tells you that you delivered a sloppy report you might find yourself thinking: I can’t do this, I’m not cut out for this job, why am I even here? Particularly if you’re insecure about the skill in question, these thoughts can start to take on a life of their own.
“A popular term for these recurring thoughts is imposter syndrome,” says Jan. “Not everyone has imposter syndrome, but I do believe that everyone is somewhere on the spectrum of being insecure about their own abilities.”
1. Aim for healthy thoughts
Instead of thinking ‘I can’t do this’, it’s healthier to think, ‘This didn’t go so well today. I’m going to work on this so that things will be better in the future.’ Jan explains how you can put this positive interpretation into action.
“Remember that this person has taken the time to tell you what you could be doing better. This person is giving you the chance to grow. Often you and the critic have the same goal. For example, to improve your collaborative project or friendship.
Try to make that positive intention central to your interpretation of the criticism. Next consider what you can learn from it: how can this help you to develop?“
2. Try to understand the feedback
Sometimes you may find yourself doubting the critic’s intention: Does this person really want me to grow or do they want to make me feel insecure? You may be tempted to act defensively or go on the attack.
“Before you react, try to understand the criticism. Ask questions and listen carefully. For example, ask the critic why they think the way they do about your work. Then calmly explain how you’re interpreting their criticism and ask if this is correct.
If you’re still unsure about the intent behind the feedback you can ask for a second opinion from somebody else: What do you think of my communication style? In what areas can I improve?” This will give you a clearer picture of your skills and opportunities for growth.
3. The 90/10 rule
If you find that – despite your best efforts to frame feedback in a positive way – you’re still bothered by what somebody has said about you, consider the following: “You can’t be good at everything. Everyone has room for improvement. And remember, you’re probably doing your job 90 percent right. However, humans have a habit of lingering on that 10 percent that isn’t going so well,” says Jan.
This is called a negativity bias. “That’s just the way we’re programmed. Often it helps us to grow, but sometimes it just leads to negative thoughts and insecurity.” Perhaps these ten tips for increased self-confidence can help you to manage this insecurity and instead focus on your awesome 90 percent.
Interpret feedback positively and grow
So then, of course, the question remains: What should you do with this opportunity for growth that feedback offers you?
Firstly, your opportunities for development are much greater if you interpret the feedback positively. This is what provides space for growth, as opposed to thinking ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘this criticism is unjustified’. Because, obviously, you have to see that there’s an opportunity for growth before you can take advantage of it.
Think about which direction you’d like to grow in, how you’d go about that, and who you could get to help you with this, for example turning to one of our psychologists for support.
Take small steps
But change often remains a challenge. “Especially if you’ve been doing things the same way for many years. Imagine if you’d been a manager for twenty years and one day your team told you that your management style is perceived as unpleasant. You can’t just become a totally different leader overnight. So, what you need to do is see which small steps you can possibly take,” explains Jan.
In addition, a solution doesn’t always have to mean a major behavioral change. “I know a person who has been receiving the same criticism for years, basically that she often seems vague and dreamy during meetings. But she just can’t seem to change. She and her team have now actually figured out how to take advantage of this perceived shortcoming. When she starts daydreaming, she often has creative ideas, which she shares with her team right away during the meeting.” In this way, making a small change can have a hugely positive impact.
Want to discuss this topic further and figure out how best to manage your specific situation? During a no-obligation introductory session you can meet with Jan or one of our other psychologists to get some help handling feedback.