How to take and receive criticism

Professional and personal growth

We don’t always know how to take criticism or receive criticism. We internalize it, give out opinions thoughtlessly, we can become overly concerned with the things that don’t matter. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggested, “It has been shown that listening to criticism activates brain areas involved in the cognitive control over negative emotions and self-referential processing.”

With this statement and personal experience in mind, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we as people take criticism very personally and internalize it in a very negative way. Recently, I became a manager at my job, and taking and receiving critiques is something that I have had to adjust to. 

I work with a lot of teenagers and I am a teenager, so I know how easy it is to get distracted and lose sight of what you’re working on. And if I don’t course-correct my employees when they are off, that puts me in a precarious position. So I had to learn how to talk to people about areas for improvement. 

How to give criticism 

First of all, being passive-aggressive isn’t an effective way to discuss your frustrations about anything, professional or otherwise. The best way to address an issue is to do so directly. When I had an issue last week with an employee, I had to step up and outline exactly what he did that frustrated me and where I expected him to do better. 

It went something like: “I was relying on you to do ‘X’ when I stepped away and you didn’t. Next time, I need you to do better about working with your eyes up and asking for help when you need it.”

I didn’t yell, but I wasn’t passive either; just clear and firm about the changes I needed to see made for next time. Frankly, the mistake this particular employee made was a common one and likely one I had made before.

I didn’t make it personal, it wasn’t about his character or personality — it was a simple fix. But if you’re not honest with people about how they upset you, you can’t expect them to improve and do better. And the next night I worked with this person, things went super smoothly. 

“To be critiqued, to grow as a person, you have to have the humility to admit that you do make mistakes and that you don’t have it all together.”

My other advice for you besides the obvious is to make it brief. I don’t want people to be internalizing how horrible they are. I don’t want someone to be so stuck in self-loathing that they aren’t able to hear what I need them to do. I make it brief and succinct. 

Next, be wise in the timing of a conversation. This is something I really struggle with. Not everything needs things to be brought up right there in the heat of the moment. And more often than not, this leads to more conflict than there would have been if I simply would have waited until I was less emotional.

Talking about something when I am pissed doesn’t really lead to a lot of resolution. It just leads to more hurt feelings, it makes me more blunt. I have learned that when you live in the Midwest, sometimes a little bit of Midwestern niceness is okay.

Finally, don’t go asking people to do things that you yourself can’t do. In short, don’t be a hypocrite. For a specific example, I am not going to ask my employees to skip their 15-minute breaks because it’s busy, and then go take a 15-minute break. I am not going ask my employees to stay late, and then go home a half hour early. 

People respect those who are in the trenches with them. I am not going to sit in the office counting the change and checking my email when we are absolutely slammed on the sales floor. If we are busy, I am going to be right there with them. 

Taking criticism 

One of the realities of working in my new position is that not everyone is going to like me. Not every personality is going vibe super well with mine. I am not always going be liked, and that’s okay. To put in layman’s terms: haters gonna hate. If you’re going to give criticism, make it constructive. 

But if people are constantly noticing bad habits, it’s okay to admit you have areas you need to improve on. For example, there is a guy at work that some of the employees aren’t the biggest fan of. They’re not criticizing his personality, or his clothing choice, employees tell me how frustrated they are with his behavior. 

He can be condescending to his peers, his employees and can struggle to say things at the right moment with the right tone. Worse, he lacks the self-awareness to recognize that he may have done something wrong. 

You have to be mindful of how you are being perceived and recognize that you have areas to improve. To be critiqued, to grow as a person, you have to have the humility to admit that you do make mistakes and that you don’t have it all together. 

If you can’t do this, you’re not going to be liked, you’re not going to be respected and worse, you’re not going to be able to continue to grow as a person. 

To accept criticism is to accept that you’re not perfect. 

Besides being open to the idea of criticism, there are other things you do. For example, control your knee jerk reactions. Specifically, don’t get defensive. It shows maturity to admit when you are wrong or that you are capable of wrongdoing. 

I have more respect for some of the teen girls I work with who can admit that they were messing around when they shouldn’t have been than I do for some of the grown men who can’t admit they may have been wrong. 

Criticism and development isn’t something that ever goes away either. Being able to go, “Yeah, that was my bad,” is huge. It should be an honor that someone is comfortable enough around you to admit when you may have mistepped and hurt their feelings professionally or personally. Take it as such. 

Second, don’t over-internalize it. While you shouldn’t dismiss it, beating yourself up for hours and hours over a small mistake is neither healthy nor productive. Be practical about it. Does wallowing in sorrow about a mistake fix it? Nope, not that I have ever seen. 

Finally, know that criticism is for your benefit. Being able to improve and resolve conflict helps you grow personally, and deepens professional and personal relationships. If you can’t do that you’re stopping yourself from being your best and if you can’t learn to deal with it you may lose or hurt valuable relationships.

It’s okay to make mistakes; we are human beings, everyone does. You, me, the people you work with, your friends — everyone. We all fall short of perfection so take your imperfections in stride. All that is required of us is simply working to be better. So be gentle on yourself and with others.

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