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Constructive Criticism Part 2 – How to Embrace it

Filed in Blog by Tracey Davison on 771 - 0 Comments

giving and receiving feedback - Leadership Blog

In last week’s blog post ‘Constructive Criticism – How do you take it?‘ I explored the three common responses to constructive criticism  This week we look deeper into the process of giving and receiving feedback by looking at how we can help those who take criticism very personally and consequently find it difficult to gain any benefit from it (Positive Rejectors) to learn to use it to further their own development and performance.
Recently I posted a blog on the topic of praise, in it I discussed the evidence that supports the fact that children who are praised for their results, rather than their efforts are:

  • less likely to take risks (because they might fail and failure must not happen),
  • require constant reassurance and
  • find criticism very hard to take.

We see these characteristics in in Positive Rejectors and, since a large number of us grew up being praised for our actual achievements rather than our effort, we might easily conclude that this may be at the root of many Positive Rejectors difficulty in taking criticism.

The workforce generation out there now is made up predominantly of people who attended schools where exam results were the only measure of how effective/intelligent/good you were.  When we consider this, it is no wonder that people have such a black and white view.  High scores or grades equal intelligence, effectiveness and ability, whilst low scores or grades equal stupidity, ineffectiveness and inability.

In addition to failure, Positive Rejectors commonly feel defeated and helpless when presented with constructive criticism.  Their perception is that their position in the team and organisation is at threat because they are powerless to change the situation.

For leaders trying to come to grips with giving and receiving feedback and needing to give constructive criticism to a Positive Rejector, consider the following:

  • Do use positive reinforcement, but don’t go overboard.  In order that Positive Rejectors should not feel like they’ve completely failed or been defeated, it is important to provide them with some positive feedback regarding the things they’re doing well.  However, going overboard with your praise of the good stuff in the hope that it will somehow soften the blow can merely minimise the importance of the constructive criticism, giving the Positive Rejector the perfect opportunity to justify not addressing it.
  • Do not be overly detailed.  You need to provide enough information for the recipient to understand the issue, but going into too much detail will make the Positive Rejector feel as though you’re pulling apart everything they do.
  • Do not be too assertive.  This approach will send Positive Rejectors immediately into defence mode.  Somebody who feels threatened will defend and deflect, rather than be open-minded.
  • Do make it about the behaviour, rather than the person.  This makes the criticism less ‘personal’ and therefore increases the chance of a positive reaction.
  • Do invite questions.  A Positive Rejector is far more likely to take on board criticism if they’ve been able to identify their own shortcomings, rather than being told them.  Coaching can be used to help this process, as it greatly enhances self-awareness.  Questions such as “How do you feel things are going?” can be very useful.
  • Do empower a Positive Rejector.  In order to reduce feelings of defeat and helplessness, a  Positive Rejector needs to feel that they are able to actually do something about the situation.  Make sure you have thought this through prior to the meeting and use language that suggests this.
  • Do talk to your team about feedback.  Ask your team how they feel when being given feedback and constructive criticism.  You’ll find that people are much better at admitting they find criticism difficult to take when they’re not actually in the process of receiving it.  Make it clear that you understand this process can be difficult, but that for individuals and teams to develop and improve we must look for ways in which we can get better.

In conclusion, if you’re a leader giving constructive criticism consider whether you are talking to an Embracer or Rejector.  Adjust your style accordingly and be prepared for a Positive Rejector to initially be defensive.   If you’re a Positive Rejector receiving constructive criticism be open minded and prepared to embrace the comments.  Remember that it really isn’t a personal attack, but an excellent opportunity for self-improvement.

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