The Art of Handling Criticism: 5 Strategies Your Staff Can Use to Provide Feedback to One Another

Teaching your staff to receive criticism is key to maintaining a positive and productive workforce.

The art of handling criticism: 5 strategies your staff can use to provide feedback to one another
We give and receive criticism every day. Some constructive, some not.

It could be notes on a slide you created, feedback on a presentation you gave, or even a comment about your Zoom background (“looks like someone hasn’t cleaned it up in a while”).

The act of receiving criticism is vulnerable, clumsy, and uncomfortable. For these reasons, many people tend to get defensive or combative. As the CEO of a growing company, I see criticism as one of the most important skills for fostering productive working relationships.

Here are a few strategies your employees can use to master the art of receiving criticism.

Listen to that person.
One of the easiest ways to take criticism effectively is to actively listen. Our first instinct when we hear criticism is to immediately start explaining and defending ourselves, but this actually hurts your case and shows that you are not listening to feedback.

Instead of responding quickly with an explanation, “I only did it because you originally wrote me that …,” listen carefully while your colleague gets through all his feedback. Then clarify that you heard their criticism.

For example, consider responding by saying: “I understand that you are upset with how the final product turned out, specifically the artistic design on slides 5 through 8.” Don’t worry about sounding redundant; the truth is, everyone wants proof that their criticism is heard and acknowledged. Only choose to explain yourself if there is a serious misunderstanding. Otherwise, 90 percent of explanations sound like excuses.

Leave your ego alone.
When you’re criticized, it’s easy to start thinking you’re being criticized yourself. You’re not. Remind yourself that your coworker is criticizing a part of your job or a specific behavior-not your personality. Once you separate the two, it will be much easier for you to attribute the criticism to the task at hand and not suffer a blow to your ego.

Making this distinction also makes it easier to defend yourself. When you are in a defensive state of mind, you think only of defending yourself and reflecting shots in your direction. This state of mind is not conducive to active listening, making it impossible for your conversation to be successful. Remember, when a colleague gives you feedback, you should always assume that they have a positive intention for giving feedback.

Don’t be afraid to apologize.
An apology is one of the most powerful tools you can use when you receive criticism, especially when you are a leader in your company. Saying “I’m sorry” will change the tone of the interaction from confrontational to collaborative. An apology means that you have heard the person’s criticism and that you are willing to accept responsibility and accountability.

You can apologize without fully accepting blame. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry it’s all my fault and I messed up,” put it so that you apologize for the misunderstanding, “I’m sorry, I must have misunderstood you. I thought you wanted examples on slides 5 through 8.”

Most people don’t like criticizing others, and odds are that when you apologize for the misunderstanding, your colleague will also apologize for not being on the same page.

It should be noted that if you apologize, don’t do so by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” which is tantamount to not apologizing and will be perceived as confrontational and unhelpful. Be authentic in your apology, and the person will reflect that authenticity.

Recognize your own emotions.
Since you are the only one who receives criticism, it is important that you assess your own emotional state. Receiving criticism is a vulnerable act, and everyone deals with it differently. It doesn’t mean keeping your emotions under control, but understanding that when you’re not in the right emotional state to take criticism.

Everyone has days when nothing seems to be going right, and even the slightest criticism can push you over the edge. There’s nothing wrong with offering to reschedule the conversation to another date or time when you know you’ll be calmer and more receptive to taking criticism.

The Law of Counter-Criticism.
After the person has given you their feedback, you can breathe easy. The uncomfortable part is over. Now you can change the focus of the conversation from “what did you do wrong” to “how will you respond to criticism.” Schedule some specific next steps: pick a date to move on to your next presentation project, schedule a check-in in a month to review your public speaking skills, and tidy up your Zoom background. Remember that you got this feedback to help you improve, not bring you down.

It’s important to note that many people don’t know how to criticize politely and diplomatically. They may attack you personally (“you’re harassing me”) or extrapolate criticism into consistent behavior (“you always do this”). Do your best to separate the bad message from the problem at hand. First, consider the issue being criticized, including planning the next steps. Then, once the issue is addressed, you can address how the issue was raised.

A productive attitude toward criticism is a form of art. The incredible thing is that if you use these methods, you will be more consistently productive, positive, happy, and out of work.