While no one wants to hear that they’ve made a mistake or they’ve let someone down at home or at work, accepting criticism is an important life skill that promotes growth. Criticism, when given constructively, allows individuals to learn new things, perform better at tasks, and see themselves or their work from a new perspective. This is also true for leaders who may be wary of receiving critical feedback from their subordinates. In fact, studies show that leaders who ask for critical feedback are seen as more effective by their superiors, employees, and peers.
There’s another reason why learning to take criticism well matters, especially if you’re a workplace leader. It allows those around you to feel comfortable being themselves. It fosters psychological safety for all employees. Being free to give feedback to one’s subordinates as well as one’s superiors is also a catalyst for creativity and collaboration in the workplace.
Though research from the Harvard Business Review indicates that people generally want to receive feedback as long as it is given constructively, some individuals go into opposition when challenged because they are too identified with their opinions. Being challenged feels like a threat to their sense of belonging. Receiving criticism can trigger shame-based thinking in which the person hearing feedback feels inadequate or not good enough. To interrupt this shame-based thinking, we’ve rounded up a number of ways a person can learn how to take feedback without getting defensive, whether they’re a new employee trying to rise to the top or already in a leadership role.
1. Have Self-Awareness
If you find yourself triggered by critical feedback and reacting defensively, ask yourself what this defensiveness is really about. Do you feel embarrassed? Ashamed? Angry? Defensiveness is a way of distancing yourself from these feelings and attempting to protect yourself. Have you always reacted this way to critical feedback? Is defensiveness a pattern?
2. Regulate Toxic Shame with Mindfulness
When triggered by criticism, compassionate mindfulness can help you regulate any toxic shame that may arise. This might feel like needing to break eye contact or a contraction at the heart center. Take a moment to place your hand where you feel stiffness or resistance, witness it fully, and then watch it dissipate. Regulating uncomfortable feelings will help interrupt or prevent a defensive reaction.
3. Develop Cognitive Empathy
Giving criticism can be just as difficult as receiving it because both individuals fear confrontation. Take a moment to develop empathy for the person giving you critical feedback. Put yourself in their shoes and realize that you both play a role in making the interaction constructive.
4. Create a Positive Environment
Creating a safe and positive environment in which the people around you feel liked and respected helps to promote a healthy exchange of critical feedback. This is especially important for leaders. If their subordinates do not feel respected, then they will not feel allowed to express how they truly feel in the workplace, even when they notice something that needs to be corrected in order to help the business succeed.
5. Look for Flaws in the System
When there is an issue at work, it’s important to look at the system rather than finding an individual at fault. If the system is flawed, then bigger adjustments need to be made so that all team members can thrive.
How We Give Criticism Is Equally Important
Giving criticism is just as important (and challenging!) as learning how to accept feedback without defensiveness. Practising nonviolent communication as defined by Marshall Rosenberg is an integral component, which entails a certain level of emotional literacy. In practising nonviolent communication, people giving critical feedback first identify the needs that are not being met and verbalizing these needs appropriately. For instance, if there is a team that is not performing well, the leader may be frustrated in their need for respect and their need for being seen as competent. Once the leader understands what he or she needs, they can use nonviolent communication to come up with a doable solution, and respectfully make a request from the team.
How the Hoffman Process Helps
During the Hoffman Process, participants are able to engage in inner work that breaks down shame-based thinking so they can accept criticism with an open mind. They also develop the ability to distinguish constructive feedback from destructive feedback. Participants learn that while other people may trigger them, their reaction is 100% theirs to deal with. In becoming less identified with toxic shame-based thinking, they learn that their self-worth has nothing to do with what other people say and cannot be upended by critical feedback.
This article was contributed by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram