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Constructive Criticism Part 1- How do you take it?

Filed in Blog by Tracey Davison on 769 - 0 Comments

ways of receiving feedback

The purpose of constructive criticism is to highlight areas that could be improved upon, so that the individual concerned can make changes which will result in improved performance and effectiveness.  Whether an individual’s performance improves following constructive criticism, depends little on the way in which the criticism is presented, but much more on the mindset of the person receiving it.  And when it comes to ways of receiving feedback, particularly constructive criticism, people tend to fall into one of three camps;

  • those who are able to take it on board and use it to enhance their performance; Embracers,
  • those who have no regard for other people’s opinions and an inflated sense of self-worth; Negative Rejectors,
  • those who find it hard to take and for whom it can have a negative effect; Positive Rejectors.

For leaders, being able to recognise these types allows not only greater empathy, but it heightens their ability to better enable the development of their people.  It is also worthy of note here that, regardless of type, all people will reject criticism if they feel it’s being delivered by somebody who is either not qualified, or for whom they have no respect.


  • are typically highly-motivated, confident go-getters,
  • are far more likely to set personal goals; often looking for ways to challenge themselves outside of work,
  • are focussed more on continuous improvement, rather than achievement; eg, an Embracer who runs a marathon will be looking for a personal best.  A Rejector who runs a marathon is more likely to be doing it for a specific reason (eg; a charity) and will be happy just to finish the race,
  • see change as a positive,
  • recognise that there is always room for improvement and that they can learn from other people,
  • respond well to a blunt, to-the-point approach,
  • see challenges, rather than limits and restrictions,
  • actively seek new learning opportunities and can turn negatives into positives,
  • are not afraid of failure and therefore have the confidence to take risks, and
  • view constructive criticism not as a personal attack, but as an opportunity for self-improvement.

The downside to Embracers is that they are often perfectionists, which (whilst not always a negative) can lead to prolonged focus on a given project/task.  They are also very often (though not always) control freaks, who can find working as part of a team frustrating, preferring to work independently towards their own goals.  However, given their nature, just highlighting these areas with Embracers will engage them in the process of improving these aspects of their performance.

Rejectors come in two very different packages.  The first of these is the Negative Rejector; this is the selfish, egotistical time-waster, who chooses not to listen to constructive criticism because they either do not believe that there is any way in which they might improve them self, or they simply do not care.
In contrast, Positive Rejectors are hard working, conscientious individuals, whose rejection of constructive criticism stems from a crooked perception of what it actually means.  Because they find criticism so difficult to accept, Positive Rejectors find ways to reject it.

Positive Rejectors:

  • always take constructive criticism personally, they see it as failure and/or defeat.  Failure is something they believe cannot happen and defeat threatens their survival in the team and the organisation,
  • are outwardly defensive, offering up reasons for their behaviour; “but I had to because…”, whilst inwardly are highly self-critical,
  • lack confidence, (although they may often display an outwardly confident presence),
  • need and seek constant reassurance and support from others,
  • tend to catastrophise; constructive criticism over just one aspect of their performance quickly turns into thoughts of; “they’re not happy with anything I do, they’re thinking of getting rid of me…”.  This then can spill over into every aspect of their life; leaving the Positive Rejector extremely unhappy.

In terms of addressing the criticism they’ve been given, because a Positive Rejector finds it so hard to deal with the emotions they experience in relation to the criticism, they will do their best to avoid it;  giving focus and priority instead to other issues.  That way, when questioned about it specifically, they can pull away from the issue by drawing attention instead to their other achievements.

Most teams will contain a number of Rejectors.  And, whilst there is no place in any team for Negative Rejectors, Positive Rejectors are not ineffective; they are usually ‘team players’ who contribute greatly to the overall performance of their team.  What leaders need to do is learn to recognise these different types and find a way in which they can communicate constructive criticism to Positive Rejectors.  And in next week’s blog we take a closer look at the ways of receiving feedback by examining how leaders can help Positive Rejectors to do this. (Read part 2.)

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