Criticism doesn’t have to be taken as something that’s negative.
It can be constructive and actually help us to improve. This could be anything from how we talk to others to the quality of our work.
Wondering how you can use constructive criticism in your life? Here are 10 steps that are proven to be no bullsh*t.
1) Say ‘thanks’ and mean it
So someone has given you feedback on something…
…And there’s criticism in there, but it’s designed to be helpful.
Let’s say your boss is talking to you about a project you’ve just completed.
They tell you that they like what you did, but they can see the ways in which it could be improved for the next time around.
Simply put, you’re offered practical ways to actually improve.
This is objectively a good thing, yet our minds can drift to thoughts like ‘we’re not good enough’ as soon as someone tells us we’ve not nailed something.
In my experience, I often end up engaging in negative self-talk when anything about my work is put under the microscope…
…Even if it’s constructive and helpful!
However, this is not the best thing to do.
Instead, if you receive any feedback from another that’s designed to be constructive, the best thing is to say ‘thanks’ and to really mean it.
In other words, you should genuinely feel grateful that someone has taken the time to offer you constructive feedback.
As you do this, you’ll then be more receptive to taking it on and learning.
2) Assume good intentions
It’s very easy to slip into a ‘woe is me’ mindset, where we feel as though people are out to get us…
…But don’t allow yourself to assume this straight off the bat if you’re faced with feedback.
It’s an unhelpful mindset that won’t allow you to actually improve.
Unless you actually know the person offering feedback doesn’t have your best intentions at heart, assume good intentions.
In other words, don’t assume that they are just trying to put you down and make you feel bad about your performance, your work, or whatever else… Just for the sake of it!
Sure, there might be some people out there that are like this, but don’t assume that of everyone unless proven otherwise.
The best thing you can do when you’re receiving feedback (if you actually want to improve) is to assume the person is just trying to help you out.
Simply put, assume that they want to see you improve and get to where you want to go; assume that they are supporting you on your journey for your growth.
3) Don’t react in a way you’ll later regret
Now, I’ve been the person who’s received feedback and raised my eyebrows as if to say ‘seriously?’
I’ve been the person who’s got my back up in an instant, and shut off from hearing what the other person has to say.
It’s safe to say that I haven’t taken feedback – constructive or otherwise – that well in the past.
Truth is, I wasn’t receptive to it. I took offense to it!
What’s more, I would also later come to regret the facial expressions of sighs I made that highlighted how I didn’t care about what was happening.
You see, I wanted the other person to know that I thought I was better than the situation at the time.
I didn’t agree with being called out on something and I let them know via my behaviors.
But if I could go back in time and replay the situations, I would stop myself from those expressions.
I wouldn’t actively try to make the other person feel bad, or disengage completely and think what was happening was rubbish.
Simply put, I would let my ego step aside and my reaction not take over so I could take on board what the other person is trying to tell me…
…So I could ultimately improve based on their feedback.
4) Focus on the fact there is a benefit to feedback
There’s something else I would do if I could turn back time to all of the moments when my boss called me out about my work, or my partner tried to tell me something about my behavior.
Instead of tapping out mentally instantly, I would remind myself that there is a benefit to what I was hearing.
You see, by focusing on the fact that there is a benefit (or moral to the story, if you like), you can flip a situation on its head.
As you remember that there is a benefit to getting feedback, you’ll likely be able to pick up on the fact it is constructive.
In other words, you’ll tune into the helpful thoughts that are shared with you…
…And come away from the situation feeling as though you’ve learned something.
Next time you’re faced with feedback, remind yourself that there is a benefit to receiving this.
Usually, feedback is shared with the intention of providing some learnings and benefit to the next person…
…Even if it comes from someone you’d rather not be receiving feedback from, for one reason or another!
5) Be sure to listen to understanding
In addition to focusing on the point that there is a benefit to what’s being shared with you, be sure to really listen to understand if you want to actually improve.
Now, it’s natural for the brain to start working and for you to want to butt in and justify yourself or explain why you did something a certain way.
But try something else if you actually want to improve from constructive criticism:
Listen to understand.
By this, I mean: listen intently so you can fully understand what the other person is saying to you.
This means not interrupting and not letting your brain run away with all manner of thoughts.
What’s more, you could even repeat back what it is the other person has shared with you to confirm you understand it.
Let’s say your colleague has told you: it’s best that you use the spreadsheet in a particular way because it confuses the boss when it’s done another way.
You could say: “I understand that you’re saying it’s best to use the spreadsheet in this way, because the boss can’t understand it if it’s done this way. Can you confirm that’s right?”
This shows you’re really listening and fully understanding what is being communicated to you.
It ensures that you’re actually able to take it on board, meaning you’ll be able to improve next time around.
6) Ask questions to deconstruct
Questions definitely have their role when it comes to feedback.
However, questions shouldn’t be on the defensive if you want to actually improve from constructive feedback.
For example, it’s no good saying: ‘but that person did this too, why aren’t they being singled out?’…
…Instead, you should focus on asking questions that help you deconstruct the feedback, and focus on your situation specifically.
It’s not helpful thinking about another person’s situation!
It’s helpful to ask questions that deconstruct what’s being said; doing this will help you get a deeper, more comprehensive picture of the feedback.
For example, you could ask the other person:
- How they would have handled the situation or done things differently
- Whether there are any other things to consider
- How you can practically implement the feedback
You see, the more you deconstruct the feedback, the more you’ll actually understand what’s being shared with you and you’ll be able to take it forward with you.
This will mean that you improve with whatever it is you’re putting your mind to.
7) Don’t get into a dispute
As I say, being defensive isn’t going to help you actually improve from feedback.
Even if you feel like the feedback is unfair on some level, the last thing you want to do is to start a dispute about it.
I once got into a heated dispute with a boss of mine because I felt like I was being attacked.
In other words, I was on the defensive and I felt like I needed to attack…
…Let’s just say: it wasn’t the wisest thing I’ve ever done.
Now, what’s more, by getting into a dispute with the person who’s trying to offer you constructive feedback it takes away from your chance for learning and growth.
This isn’t what you want!
When receiving constructive criticism, you might feel as though you have to swallow your pride a little bit…
…But it’s worth it in the long-run if your ultimate goal is to actually improve on something.
8) Keep an open mind
By now, you likely realize the value of ensuring that you have the right mindset when it comes to receiving constructive criticism.
You see, there’s a formula you need to follow to ensure that you take on feedback well and actually use it to improve.
Along with listening and not letting your mind take you into negative spaces, ensure that you have an open mind.
For instance, instead of thinking that only you have been singled out by the boss, keep your mind open to the fact that many others might also be in the same position.
In other words:
As an alternative to thinking that you’re the only one who’s receiving feedback on how they performed on a recent project, keep in mind that others might be in the same position…
…And don’t jump to conclusions about a situation!
What’s more, keeping an open mind will help you actually improve and to take on what’s being said in a helpful way.
9) Remember it’s not personal
Constructive criticism very often takes place in the context of business.
That said, you might find that people around you, in your personal life, also offer you feedback.
For example, my partner called me out recently for talking about people in a way that could be seen as rude.
It was said in a way that was designed to help me bring awareness to the behavior, and not said to provoke me or cause an argument.
Truth is, I had to make a conscious decision to see it as something that was constructive…
…Rather than something that was a dig at me.
In my experience, it helps to reframe constructive criticism as something that isn’t personal.
In other words, feedback is not just a jibe at someone to make them feel bad about themselves.
More often than not, it comes from places of good intentions…
…And if you can see that: you can actually improve!
10) Ask for follow-up time
Alright, so you made it through one round of feedback and you listened, asked questions and engaged…
…Surely that’s enough?
Well, if you really want to improve on something and ensure that you’re implementing the constructive criticism correctly, there’s no harm in asking for follow-up time!
Constructive criticism shouldn’t just be a one-time thing, but an ongoing process if you actually want to improve.
So why should you do it?
Simply put, it offers the chance to ask if you’re doing the right thing with the feedback and implementing it correctly, and to ask for further ways to improve.
It’s also a chance to show the other person how you’ve gone about taking their feedback on board, which could be helpful in a corporate or business context – when it comes to getting a promotion.
You see, by doing this: you’ll show that you actually care and want to improve.
It shows you’re keen and engaged, and your ego doesn’t bruise easily from receiving feedback.
It will signal to others that you’re trying, and you’ll likely find they’re more receptive to wanting to give you feedback in the future.
They’ll recognize you as someone who wants to learn, and who doesn’t think they’re a know-it-all!