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5 Tips For Dealing With Constructive Criticism (Even When You Disagree)

Topics: Career Advice
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It never feels great to be criticized. Even when you accept that receiving feedback comes with the territory when you have a job, absorbing these critiques isn’t something many people exactly enjoy. Still, you understand and accept, appreciate even, that it’s the responsibility of higher-ups to help steer everyone in the right direction. So, you listen, you learn, and you try to do better in the future.

But, what should you do when you don’t agree with the criticism you receive? In these instances, things get a little trickier. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Don’t respond right away.

Before rushing to any conclusions (or worse, rushing into a response) take some time to fully understand the feedback you’re being offered. Once you’ve had some time to process, you can ask some follow-up questions to help clarify the ideas. You can do this face-to-face or via email, asking a few hours or a few days later. The important thing here is to take your time and not rush into a response. Taking this feedback in is a process, it’s not going to happen all at once. So, take a beat, take a breath, and dive a little deeper to be sure you correctly and completely understand the feedback before doing anything else. Ultimately, you’ll want to respond rather than react to this. And, that means taking your time and not moving too quickly.

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2. Try to understand the roots and origin of the criticism.

An important part of understanding any critique is understanding where it originated. Unfortunately, it often comes more naturally to try and search for reasons why the person who criticized us is wrong instead. We might think “they don’t know this job” or “they don’t really understand the situation with that client.” And, that very well could be the case. But instead of trying to disprove the critique, try to understand its origins.

Think back to what happened that may have prompted the feedback. It might help you understand the situation a little better if you ask a few questions. You’ll get closer to the heart of the matter if you see where it began. So ask, with an open mind and calm nerves, for more information about what prompted the feedback and what you can do differently in the future. And, remember, you’re still not reacting here — you’re seeking to fully understand the feedback first.

3. Work on letting go of perfectionism, and find a kernel of truth.

Instead of searching for reasons why the person who criticized you is wrong, try a reverse exercise — can you see any way at all in which they might have been right? Understand and accept that you are not perfect. No one is. And, try to see the situation from a wider perspective. Climb outside of yourself in a way and examine the situation. Is there anything at all here that you can work with or learn from? If you’re still stuck, you could try asking a trusted colleague for some help understanding the critique. Just be sure to have an open mind. It could make a big difference in the level of honest feedback you receive.

“While there will always be something wrong with the feedback you get – maybe even 90% – there will also almost always be something right that you can learn from,” wrote Sheila Heen and Debbie Goldstein at Harvard Business Review. “Our friends and colleagues are well placed to help us see that last 10%. But they won’t do so unless we explicitly ask and demonstrate that we won’t shoot the messenger.”

4. Decide how you’re going to use the feedback.

First of all, if you’ve managed to get through the process of understanding this feedback fully and accurately without reacting out of anger or in an otherwise self-defensive manner, give yourself a pat on the back. It isn’t easy. But, by responding (rather than reacting) the way you have, you’ve demonstrated great maturity and confidence. It takes a strong and capable person to admit their own shortcomings and learn and grow from them. Acknowledge and appreciate that you’re attempting to do just that. Others will likely be noticing too.

Next, take some time to ponder your new understanding of the criticism you received. Decide how you’re going to apply or utilize this feedback as your proceed forward. It’s likely that the point of focus has shifted around a bit since the original comment. And, that’s okay. You’ve done the right thing by taking the feedback in, thinking about it for a while, and making it your own. Now it’s time to decide how you would like to utilize this new understanding as you move forward.

5. Be aware of your progress.

Finally, make a plan for the future. Decide on a few goals or action steps that feel right to you. Make sure these plans are clear and concrete, at least in your mind, and come up with a timetable for yourself. Later, check in with yourself to see how you’ve done. There’s no need to go back to person who originally criticized you to discuss this process. You did what you needed to do when you simply and patiently accepted the feedback in the first place. Now, you’ve made the process your own and used it as fuel to help you learn and grow professionally. That’s the kind of thing others will notice in one way or another.

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What do you do that helps you handle constructive criticism that you don’t like? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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