Just a thought…..Learning to Accept Criticism
Adapted from a previous excerpt I wrote for my staff several years ago.
All of us want to believe we are doing a good job. After all, we put so much effort into our work, parenting, marriages, relationships, and day to day functions. Surely, others are noticing how amazing we are, right? Well, what if the way we perceive ourselves is not the same way others see us? How can we bear and accept the criticism of others when we thought we were doing so well? I came up with this analogy to help you see the value in criticism (aka: feedback). Hopefully, after reading this you will be able to open yourself up to hearing less-than-favorable feedback and make positive changes because of it.
Lettuce in the Teeth
Imagine you go to lunch with your co-workers and after eating your salad a piece of lettuce gets lodged between your teeth. Though they notice it, none of your coworkers tell you. Every person you encounter for the rest of the day takes note of it. Still, no one says anything to you. Finally, you go home for the day and when you get there you pass a mirror. Now you see that there is lettuce between your teeth and knowing that you had a salad at lunch, you realize it has been there most of the day. Just because you were not aware of it before this moment does it mean that it didn’t exist until then? Of course not. It simply means that although everyone around you was aware of the flaw, nobody pointed it out. Now that you are standing in front of a mirror you can make a correction and remove the lettuce because you now know of its existence; however, don’t you wish someone had told you sooner so that you would have had the opportunity to change things before more people saw it?
It is the same way with feedback. It might be uncomfortable to give and even more uncomfortable to hear, but if given in an honest and respectful way it can be the best thing one can do for another person. Always try to remember this, no matter on what end of the conversation you happen to be. Allow someone the chance to make a correction to change something of which they may not previously have been aware. We all have room to grow, we all have imperfections, and we all need to hear feedback to become better versions of ourselves.
How to Handle the Comment
So what do you do if you are being given feedback that is a blow to the old ego? Follow these steps to ensure you are handling it with grace and the consideration it deserves:
- Don’t get defensive. Your first instinct may be to react with denial and the need to defend yourself. You want to explain why you did what you did so the other person will see they are all wrong about you. Try not to do this. Take a deep breath, and really try to hear what the commenter is saying to you. Let it sink in without judgement.
- Think before you respond. Is there any truth to what you are hearing? Yes, the truth hurts but it you can objectively listen and mull it over for a minute, you may be able to admit that there is some validity to the comment. If you can see this, simply say, “thank you for pointing this out. I hadn’t considered that before. You’ve given me a lot to think about”. You can still ponder it further but if you are not ready for a full blown discussion on the topic this will gracefully ease you out of the conversation.
- Take stock. Now you know how you came across to others. What do you do with that information? You think about it, and I mean really think about it. If one person was brave enough to tell you the truth as they saw it, chances are, they are not the only one who thought this. Put your ego aside and use this information to make improvements. Maybe you really do interrupt others when they are trying to speak, maybe you are overly critical and harsh when trying to teach others a new skill. Whatever the feedback, it’s a means to make a better version of yourself. Don’t throw that opportunity away; use it!
- Implement a change. Okay. So now you know the painful truth. You’ve taken stock and have admitted to yourself that you do in fact, have an issue in the area pointed out to you. How can you turn this into a positive? You change the behavior. If you have owned up to being bossy and critical when you teach others maybe you could get a book on effective teaching styles. Maybe you could watch someone that others consider to be a good teacher and try to emulate them. Regardless of how you do it, you must make a change!
- Go back for an evaluation. So now you’ve been consciously working the last couple of months to change your unacceptable behavior. Has anyone noticed? It’s possible that they have and they will come and tell you that they can see a change; however, it’s been my experience that people are quicker to tell you what you are doing wrong than they are about what you’re doing right. So ask. Go back to the person who originally gave you the criticism and ask them if they can see a difference. Let them know you really took their feedback to heart and you’d value their opinion. If they were honest enough to tell you about it in the first place, they will be honest enough to give you an update.
All of us want to be the best that we can be. I make it my personal goal to be a little better each day than I was the day before. It may not be noticeable to those that spend each day with me as it will be a gradual change, but I can assure you, a year down the road it will be profound. I too, had to learn to take feedback without getting upset and defensive. It’s not easy to take stock of our own flaws, but it’s essential for personal growth.
So the next time someone says to you, “You have some lettuce between your teeth” and offers you a mirror; reach out and gratefully accept it-for this is truly a gift.