No one likes to receive criticism, especially when we don’t trust the other person’s motives.
And yet, the right kind of critiquing is a highly effective tool to improve performance. And being able to receive constructive criticism effectively can even give you a competitive edge in your next job interview.
If you’re in the position of either giving or receiving constructive criticism, it can feel deeply uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to.
Here are some guidelines to better understand the process of critiquing and how to give and receive feedback effectively.
The purpose of constructive criticism is to help the person receiving feedback improve. It can come in the form of performance reviews or simply by means of casual conversation.
Personal attacks intended to make someone look bad or damage their confidence do not fall under the category of constructive criticism.
Before offering constructive feedback, be sure to ask yourself what your point of view is. Do you truly want to help the person you're speaking to? If so, giving respectful and tactful feedback is more than acceptable.
If you’re on the receiving end of some constructive criticism, it helps to remind yourself that such feedback is designed to benefit you and shouldn’t be taken too personally.
Receiving feedback often feels a bit awkward. It can bring out a sense of insecurity.
But when the motivation behind the criticism is a positive one, it can be very helpful.
A recent Gallup poll found that employees who receive weekly feedback are 2.7 times more likely to be engaged at work. It stands to reason that, when an employee knows exactly what is expected of them, they will work harder to achieve it.
Yet, it’s rare that workplaces give employees enough feedback, as you can see from the graphic below.
According to this graphic, most businesses offer negative or positive feedback a few times a year. Some of them only provide feedback once a year or less!
This can create a problem because, without feedback, you don’t know whether you’re doing a good job or not. If expectations are unclear, you may continue making the same mistakes with no opportunity to improve. This isn’t doing you or your employer any favors.
Not only that, but if you’re not receiving feedback regularly, you’ll feel even more awkward when you do receive it.
Some employers wait until the day of your annual performance review to provide any meaningful feedback. By then, any negative or positive feedback you receive may be documented or placed in your file before you’ve had a chance to rectify the situation.
If your workplace does not have a system for providing constructive criticism to employees, don’t be afraid to ask.
Speak with a supervisor or coworker that you trust and ask them to give you an honest assessment of how you’re doing. That way, if there are any issues, you will have the opportunity to work on fixing them before they come back to bite you at your performance review.
If you’re not used to receiving feedback, you might feel slightly panicked when it’s offered. Why is this person telling you this? How do they expect you to respond? Does everyone else think this too?
But there’s no need to freak out. Here are some tips that will help you accept constructive criticism in the same spirit in which it’s offered.
Before you do anything else, remind yourself of all the good things that can come out of criticism. It’s an opportunity to improve your work performance, your relationships with your coworkers and supervisor, and the company’s finished product.
For example, even if you already have a troubled relationship with a colleague who tells you there was a mistake on your report, their feedback can be valuable. Remember that constructive criticism still can carry truth, no matter the source. So try to see past any recent conflict with the person and look at their feedback objectively.
This might sound simple, but it can be challenging to listen attentively when someone offers constructive criticism.
Your mind might immediately jump to coming up with excuses or reasons why this person’s feedback might be flawed. Avoid that. Instead, listen respectfully and objectively until the critique has been fully laid out.
That means really absorbing what the person is saying instead of rushing to respond.
There are many components of active listening, including paying attention to body language. Check-in with yourself to make sure that you are employing as many of these practices as possible as you listen to constructive criticism.
When your supervisor starts giving you pointers on how you could have handled a client better, don’t rush to respond. Listen until they are completely finished.
Once you’ve fully listened to the feedback, it’s time to ask any clarifying questions you have.
Ask for more details about specifics. If your supervisor says your tone was too aggressive in a meeting, ask what exactly you said. You might ask if this is a one-time incident or an ongoing pattern: “Have you noticed an aggressive tone in any other instances?”
It can be tough to control your emotions when receiving feedback. After all, if you care about your work (as we know you do), it definitely feels personal. But to benefit from the feedback, it’s crucial to stay in control of your emotions. (This is also good advice if you interview for a job and find out you’re not a good fit.)
So when your boss mentions that you showed up late to work yesterday, stop yourself from reacting immediately. Instead, take a deep breath and be sure to take a second to calm your emotions before responding.
This might seem difficult, but it’s important to thank the other person for taking the time to give you feedback.
After all, they could have just ignored the mistake and allowed it to continue until more people noticed.
Giving feedback is an act of caring, which deserves to be recognized as such.
Look them in the eye and say deliberately, “I appreciate the time you took to talk to me about this.”
Following the guidelines here should help you incorporate constructive criticism to improve your job performance.
If you are in the position of giving constructive criticism, here are a few tips to make it go down easier.
Vague criticism is no help to anyone. Prepare ahead of time by breaking your feedback down into several specific points, supported by concrete examples. The more actionable your feedback is, the easier it is to digest and incorporate.
No matter how gentle and tactful you are, the recipient of feedback will tend to take it personally. You can minimize that reaction if you focus your feedback on specific work-related behaviors. Don’t call out a worker on their personality, but on their work.
Take your feedback a step further by asking if the recipient needs anything from you to improve. Do they need more training on a specific skill or procedure? Does the team need more guidance or perhaps some restructuring?
Keep the door of communication open, so the worker feels comfortable coming to you for help.
It’s in our nature to dwell on negative feedback more than praise. So try to cushion the blow with plenty of positive statements. (In fact, praise is so important that Jobcase has a specialized feature just for praising workers.)
Consider trying the “sandwich method.”
Employees will feel much more motivated to work harder if they feel that their positive contributions are seen and recognized as much as their mistakes.
Let’s say you have an employee whose work ethic seems to have deteriorated. His productivity has gone way down. Once, you even caught him playing “Solitaire” instead of working.
Try saying, “I notice you don’t seem as motivated lately. I wondered if you would like to talk about it. Is there something I can do differently to help you?”
And don’t forget to “sandwich” this criticism with plenty of positive comments about his great work in the past.
Constructive criticism (either giving or receiving) can feel awkward. Your first impulse might be to run away from the conversation or react with anger. But by handling constructive criticism calmly and thoughtfully, you can make it a powerful tool to reach new heights in your career.
As Elbert Hubbard said: “There is only one way to avoid criticism. Do nothing; say nothing; be nothing.”
Unless you want to “be nothing,” getting comfortable with constructive criticism is a must.
For more work advice, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.