How to Navigate Constructive Criticism

How To Navigate Constructive Criticism

Another Throwback Thursday in the books. This week I'm jumping back to a blog post about constructive criticism. For some reason, clients ask me a lot how they should handle the words, comments, and feedback of family + friends + employers. So, read on...

Often we think our friends and family are supposed to lift us up, give us support, and love us endlessly. But what do we do when they offer those often hard-to-hear criticisms?

Today, I hope to share four tips for how to handle constructive criticism. I hope that through this post you can navigate these relationships with a little more grace and ease.

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#1 Discern the criticism

It's not criticism. OK - well maybe it is. The point being that our culture has turned the word criticism into a primarily negative connotation. But criticism is not necessarily negative. Criticism is: evaluating, making careful judgment, or considering the good and bad.

When we hear words like judgment and evaluating we quickly avoid or claim that no-one should judge. BUT,  you make evaluative judgments all day - some toward yourself, some toward others, some toward even more obscure things (e.g. should I drive in the snow when I know I may not be safe). We all evaluate.

I get it, criticism does not feel good when it's all negative. This is the type of criticism we avoid - but constructive criticism can be an awesome opportunity when handled carefully.

Is it constructive? The basis of constructive criticism is that it is intended to help and improve and is often accompanied with possible solutions. 

Yet, somehow we still get wrapped up in negativity and call it constructive criticism. A person may give a comment using "constructive criticism" as a guise to say whatever they want. This is not constructive -- shake it off! You do not need to soak in all the negativity in the world. Soak in what is good for admonition and building you up.

You do need to become a critical thinker regarding constructive criticism. Evaluate whether what you are hearing is actually all negative or a potential opportunity for growth...

#2 Reflect on the relationship

When you reflect on the relationship you are considering whether this is a person you feel comfortable receiving criticism from. Often what is most challenging about criticism is feeling like its coming out of nowhere or from someone you don't trust.

Run these questions through your head: am I in continual relationship with this person? Do they know me well? Am I obligated to hear this criticism (e.g. from a boss or parent)? Does this person have a history of supporting me? Does this person have a history of trying to brings others down?

When I reflect on who the constructive criticism comes from I am often much more open to hearing it. I know past professors and colleagues have wanted me to become the best therapist I can so it was easier to hear their feedback even when it was challenging. 

Reflect and consider whether this person is in a position to push you toward your very best self or trying to hurt, undermine, or attack you. More likely that not, true constructive criticism comes from a place of love.

#3 Respond

Sometimes constructive criticism takes time to process. Especially, if the truth in the message tugs at something you've been trying to work on or know you are weak at. Take a deep breath, thank the person, and let them know you'll need time to process. 

Often, when we hear constructive criticism we jump to the defense. We hate the thought of being weak or making a mistake and want to provide justifications. The best thing you can do is give yourself time and space before responding. You'll be able to think more logically and clearly when you have time to reflect.

But an initial response is key! If a boss gives you a review, let them know immediately that you appreciate the evaluation and want to take time to think about each thing they said. If a friend is sharing an anecdote about a negative comment you made earlier, let them know you value their thoughts and want space to think about it. Whatever you do, respond to the person to acknowledge that you appreciate the safety in the relationship and their honesty.

#4 Process and grow

One of the best things about constructive criticism is the ability to grow. Those who are older, wiser, or more advanced have skills and knowledge we may be lacking. Change your perspective about constructive criticism and begin to soak in the benefits!

It's rare that others feel comfortable sharing and helping us grow - these are great relationships to have. I am especially thankful for the people in my life who know me well and gently push me. These people are gracious, kind, thoughtful, and careful in how they present criticism - a sign of a great friend.

Take time to process what's been said. This may be an hour or a week. Do not avoid. Give the comment attention. Think on it and consider whether it may be true (or a new, valuable perspective), and then challenge yourself to grow.

Constructive criticism is not always easy to hear but can be a great opportunity for your personal growth. 1) Discern the criticism, 2) reflect on the relationship, 3) respond, and 4) process and grow.

Lucky you -- I gave four #Tips today!

-Dr. K