By Anne Evenson
Learn to accept and implement constructive feedback, and you’ll increase your self-awareness, improve your confidence and reach your goals.
“Working at Pixar, you learn the really honest, hard way of making a great movie, which is to surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you, much more talented than you, and incite constructive criticism; you’ll get a much better movie out of it.”
Andrew Stanton, American animator, film director, screenwriter, producer and Oscar winner
As I mentioned in a prior post, learning how to offer constructive criticism to my peers in art school was an integral part of my educational experience. Equally important was learning how to accept and respond to constructive feedback appropriately so I could grow personally and artistically. I had many one-on-one and group critiques that helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses. As a result, I accepted constructive criticism without defensiveness while reaping the rewards. Whether you’re an artist, engineer, sculptor, or software programmer, knowing how to take constructive criticism will nurture your personal and professional development. Discover how to recognize constructive criticism, overcome your initial emotional response, and respond in healthy and productive ways to improve yourself and your work.
Constructive Criticism Defined
When offered thoughtfully and considerately, constructive criticism provides an individual with specific, actionable suggestions for improvement in a particular area. The person submitting this feedback must ensure that it’s accurate and timely and be prepared to brainstorm with the recipient about ways to improve and next steps. In addition, the critique should relate to a situation or behavior rather than the individual and include clear examples and expectations.
Destructive criticism: “Your work and your attitude suck! What is your malfunction?!”
Constructive criticism: “Normally, you’re enthusiastic about your work and submit accurate reports on deadline, but lately, you seem distracted, and your reports are late with multiple errors. Is there something specific derailing your normally positive outlook and strong work ethic?”
While it’s human nature to respond to criticism with your emotions first, if someone offers honest, constructive feedback, overcoming that knee-jerk reaction is the only way to absorb it fully. So, please take a deep breath and don’t take it personally. This moment will help you remain calm and give your brain time to process the information to think carefully about what the person giving you feedback is telling you and why. Also, try to keep a neutral facial expression and resist the urge to interrupt, argue or talk over the person.
Recall the Benefits of Good Feedback
After you’ve suppressed your reactive reflex, remind yourself that constructive criticism will help you improve and is probably offered by someone who cares about your personal and professional success. Remember to adopt a positive attitude and be open to the possibility that this feedback will strengthen your relationship with the person offering it. They’ll also be more likely to provide you with constructive critiques in the future, which will only help you improve and grow more.
Practice Active Listening
Listen carefully and focus on what the person is communicating to you, not how you will respond when they are finished. Hear what they are saying with an open mind and avoid over-analyzing or doubting the person’s critique. Instead, use empathy to understand their motivations by asking yourself how your situation or behavior might affect them.
Relate the Feedback to the Situation
The ultimate objective of constructive criticism is to help you attain your goal, so take a few minutes to consider your performance. First, examine any errors you’ve made, learn from them, and then jettison them to move towards your goal. And remember, if someone delivers feedback in a genuinely constructive way, it should be based on your role, not you.
Though you want to avoid challenging constructive criticism, it’s okay to ask questions about the feedback and brainstorm ideas for improvement. This is also an excellent time to share your perspective and gain clarity to make sure you’re on the same page. For example, if your supervisor tells you that you were a bit overzealous in the morning meeting, here are a few ways to dissect the feedback:
- Ask for specific examples to help you appreciate the situation: “I was excited about our new designs, but can you tell me when you thought I was overzealous in the meeting?”
- Concede the feedback that is not in question: “I agree that I talked too long and didn’t allow my teammates a chance to contribute. I apologized to them directly after the meeting.”
- Ask your supervisor if this is an isolated incident: “Have you observed me getting overzealous in other meetings too?”
- Seek solutions to address the critique: “I’d like to hear your thoughts on how I might deal with this situation differently hereafter.”
Remain positive and express genuine gratitude to the individual for providing the feedback. Even if you disagree with their assessment, it’s essential to acknowledge their efforts. Remember that offering constructive criticism can be challenging, so show them that you appreciate their evaluation. Make eye contact and sincerely thank them for sharing feedback with you. Be intentional and say, “Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me; I truly appreciate it.”
Remember, the individual offering you constructive criticism does so with respect, so don’t take it personally. They recognize your strengths and weaknesses and want to provide you with the means to overcome them. So, be gracious and turn their feedback into something beneficial that inspires and motivates you!
Anne Evenson is a marketing specialist and copy editor working in Austin, Texas. She holds a BFA in Fibers and Printmaking from the Kansas City Art Institute.
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