How to Accept Critical Feedback Without Getting Defensive
Hearing critical feedback about yourself can be difficult. After all, who likes to hear a list of negative things about themselves, especially when the points are true?
Nevertheless, it’s important to be able to hear and take critical feedback without getting defensive. People who can take constructive criticism are able to make positive changes. That means they can start performing at a higher level.
If you tend to get defensive when receiving feedback, you probably won’t grow in the same way as those who can hear critical feedback objectively. It's a skill you can work on.
Here’s how you can take critical feedback without getting defensive.
The most important thing you can do when you’re receiving criticism is to listen actively. This means that you’re really listening, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Give the conversation your full attention, concentrate, respond and make sure you can remember the main points.
You want to shut off the part of your brain that starts formulating answers and responses to what’s being said. Your defense is besides the point. There might be extenuating circumstances, but they don’t matter for the purpose of this conversation.
What does matter is that you listen actively to what the person is saying and process it without making a debate out of the matter.
This might feel unnatural, but it’s one of the most important things you can do when it comes to receiving constructive criticism.
It’s hard enough to receive constructive criticism — it’s a whole other level to start asking questions about it so that you can glean more information about where you have room for improvement.
When you start asking questions, have an eye toward understanding the criticism. The point to your questions is not to find the flaw in the criticism, but to fully digest it.
Keep in Mind:
Remember that the person is giving you feedback to help you grow and improve your performance.
Understand Why Feedback Is Important
People tend to be their own worst critics. You’re too critical where you shouldn’t be and you have blind spots to areas where you need criticism the most.
Critical feedback from others is important because it’s more objective than what you’re going to give yourself.
Point of View:
Don’t see constructive criticism as a reason to be upset. Rather, see it as an opportunity to improve your performance and become a more productive employee.
Criticism is only as good as what you can remember and respond to. Take notes while you receive critical feedback so that you can refer back to it later.
Especially when we hear things that make us uncomfortable, it can be easy to block it out. When you write things down, the information also is easier to remember even without referring back to the notes.
And, of course, you can always make your own notes alongside what you’re being told, devising ways to improve in the areas discussed.
Schedule a Follow Up
Scheduling a follow up might not sound tempting — you’ll have to revisit the same uncomfortable issues.
And, when you have the follow up meeting, that’s the time for you to not make counter arguments but rather to show your progress on the issues discussed.
How to Shine:
Focusing on your progress instead of arguing the point shows that you’re serious about addressing the areas where you need to improve or change.
Even before you’ve started making progress regarding the criticism, you’re showing that you’re taking in what has been said and treating the matter seriously.
Understand the Other Person’s Point of View
Yes, receiving criticism is unpleasant. However, it’s important to realize that the other person is likely uncomfortable as well.
Especially if the criticism in question is about an uncomfortable or sensitive topic, the person providing your feedback likely will not like giving it anymore than you like hearing it.
Be sensitive to the fact that the other person isn’t comfortable and that might make you less anxious and more receptive.
Get In Front of Critical Feedback
Don’t be afraid to ask for honest and frank critical feedback from your supervisors and peers.
The more you hear critical feedback, the more comfortable you’re going to be hearing it when it’s totally unsolicited. That will make you more capable of hearing negative feedback and improving your performance rather than getting defensive and rejecting out of hand what is being said to you.
More Bites At The Apple:
Asking for critical feedback will also provide you with more regular criticism on your performance, allowing you more opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Surround Yourself With Frank People
Being around people who aren’t afraid to give feedback on the fly will help you to become more comfortable hearing it.
You’ll also become more skilled at giving critical feedback, helping you to better understand the other side of the equation.
People who aren’t afraid to provide critical feedback to their peers tend to have good leadership skills, something else that will hopefully rub off on you.
Understand the Difference Between Effort and Results
Constructive feedback typically isn’t intented to point out that you weren’t trying hard enough. It’s usually that your results weren’t up to scratch.
This is part of not having to answer back when you’re being confronted with potentially uncomfortable criticism. Your job is to take it in, not fight back.
Being aware that your efforts aren’t being called into question helps you to prevent yourself from taking personally the criticism in question. It’s almost certainly not personal. Instead, the issue is your performance.
Don’t Ignore the Positive
When you’re getting critical feedback, there’s likely going to be good feedback in there as well. Don’t forget that.
Indeed, the positive feedback might provide you with a way to make the improvements and changes that are being requested of you. What’s more, it’s going to make it easier for you to hear the rest of the criticism.
Keep This In Mind:
Remember, not everything that you do needs improvement. In fact, you can rely upon the areas where you’re already performing at a superior level to help assist you in your improvement in other areas.
Listen to Intent as Well as Words
Let’s face it: Not everyone is good at providing critical feedback. However, just because they’re inartful in their delivery of the critical feedback doesn’t mean that the content of what they’re delivering to you isn’t useful.
Sometimes you need to listen for the ideas behind the words. That can be difficult if you’re confronted with someone who is particularly bad at providing critical and objective feedback.
Still, listening to what they’re trying to tell you and ignoring the actual words they’re using will help you to receive feedback better and perform better as a result.
Do As They Say, Not As They Do
So let’s say that someone gives you critical feedback and they’re telling you to behave completely differently than you have seen them behave in the past.
Does that make their feedback any less valid? Of course it doesn’t.
If a person with 10 DUI conviction tells you not to drive drunk, it’s still good advice. Just as you shouldn’t make receiving feedback personal, so you shouldn’t make it personal in the other direction.
Good advice from a badly behaved person is still good advice. Lead by example and follow the advice. Don’t be surprised if they start following you.
Explain How the Feedback Helped You
Going back over the critical feedback will help you to acclimate yourself to hearing it. Expressing how it helped you will help the person who gave you the critical feedback better understand how they helped.
This will make hearing critical feedback much smoother in the future as you and the person providing you with feedback establish an easier rapport.
If you do this, you’ll soon find your conversations regarding your performance are more a matter of routine than something to get anxious or excited about.
Say 'Thank You'
It can be very humbling when someone provides you with sharp critical feedback. This can be even more true when you say “thank you” at the end of the conversation.
However, this lets the other person know that you’re open to hearing more critical feedback from them in the future. Opening that door provides you with more opportunities for growth, including being able to hear constructive feedback at all times without becoming defensive or standoffish.
It’s never easy to hear critical feedback. However, you can prepare yourself in advance and get the most out of the feedback by being open to the message and responding well.