The Art of Accepting Criticism – Part 2

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In part 1 of this article we covered two important strategies for learning to accept criticism, even when it’s difficult. We have to  learn to separate our egos from our work product, and we have to listen for and recognize the real intention of our critics. In this second article, we’re going to talk about two more key strategies for accepting and making use of quality criticism to improve our work.

Don’t Play Defense

Sometimes, even if you’re doing your best to leave your ego out of it, criticism can leave you feeling a little sore. Our natural instinct is to defend ourselves against what we perceive to be an attack on our character or ability. My recommendation: Stop being defensive.

No, I don’t mean you should sit and let yourself be abused. Abuse is not criticism. But remember, when you’re speaking, or writing, or creating in any fashion, you do so for your audience. If your audience has criticism, then you have an amazing opportunity. They are telling you what they want. Going on defense, and shutting down the critique, will eliminate any opportunity that you have to glean that valuable information.

So listen to your critics. Pay attention to what they have to say. Going on the defensive will stop them from saying anything at all. Paying attention will net you valuable data on where you can improve, what you can offer, and how you can solve their problems. Listening respectfully to criticism—and taking action on it—is one of the best ways to really connect with your audience.

Beg For It

Not only should you welcome criticism, you should absolutely beg for it. Request input and feedback at every turn. Request it, in particular, from those you deeply respect and admire. They will have really excellent input for you. Encourage your critics to be honest with you. Don’t let them get away with blowing sunshine up your butt. None of us is perfect, and any who operate under that assumption are too arrogant to be successful. Make it clear that you are humble enough to listen to suggestions for improvement, and that you welcome honest criticism.

Again, moderation is the key. You can filter out criticism that is, ultimately, destructive or abusive. You don’t have to take every suggestion, nor should you. This isn’t a process of designing by committee. It should, instead, be a data-gathering endeavor. If you ask for criticism, you will expand the base of the data from which you have to draw. As you start to see consistent patterns in what your critics are telling you, you’ll find those places where it is most important to improve.

But, you will want to gather a lot of data, and so you should make yourself available to criticism at every chance you get. Ask for it, solicit it, BEG for it.

Keep Track

Insofar as we’re gathering a significant amount of data that we can use to improve, it is incumbent upon us to keep track of that data. When you receive criticism, write it down as soon as possible. Get some additional data, if you can. Make sure to be as specific as you are able in capturing the critique.

If you can get some meta-data as well, that can be useful. Who is the critic, what do they do? What is their background? What is their demeanor when they offer the critique? Their tone of voice? The situation you were in together? All of that can be useful in sleuthing out the quality content of the criticism.

Keep a spreadsheet or a document with all of that data. Go over it, watch out for patterns. Evaluate what things you definitely need to work on, and what things you can safely ignore. You obviously can’t please everybody all of the time, but you will start to see when certain things become apparent. Those are the things you want to work hardest at improving. Keeping track of your data will reveal information about your audience, your performance, and your improvement over time.

Learning to accept criticism is a tough process. It goes against our instinct to defend ourselves, it can bruise our egos if we allow it to. It is a tough deal. Just remember, it isn’t about you. It’s about your speech or presentation. It’s about your product. And it’s about making that product better and more suitable for your audience. What better reason is there to learn to handle criticism with grace?

Have anything to add? Any feedback? Any criticism to level? Let me hear it in the comments!