Do You Crack Under the Pressure of Constructive Criticism?

Taking constructive criticism or negative feedback from management or colleagues with a degree of professionalism (and grace) is a highly valuable skill that requires both self-awareness and humility.

No matter what our job title, we can all learn from constructive criticism, which usually involves both positive and negative comments. It can fuel our creativity and improve our communication skills. So if that moment of negative feedback arrives, just remember the rules you learned as a kid about crossing the street: Stop, look and listen.

Stop: Take a breath before you respond

Don’t let your emotional gut reaction to constructive criticism take hold, even if it is delivered in an oppositional manner. Pause for a beat and think about the value (long-term or short-term) of your relationship with this person before you respond. As in sports, your response will keep the ball in play, so you want to be sure that what you say next will result in a reasonable volley, not a total smack-down.

Being able to accept criticism is one step to building confidence. Find out the surprising benefits confidence at work can have on your career.

Look: Ask a few questions

Consider what the motivation behind the criticism might be — is it highly subjective or fairly objective? Look at the external circumstances that may be factors in the decision to criticize you or your work. Then try to put yourself in the other person's shoes for a moment to see if you can discover any internal issues that may be framing his or her words. Ask sincere questions to deconstruct the comments if you’re unsure of the intent.

Listen: Learn from the feedback

Remember that there is always a benefit to getting feedback, even when it’s negative or unsolicited. You may learn something new about the nature of your work, your role in the company, or even your own confidence and self-esteem. You are likely to learn more about the individuals you work with, as well as the interpersonal dynamics of your whole team.

In an ideal setting, criticism should always be constructive, and negative feedback should be avoided. After all, positive feedback has a bigger impact on employees' performance than criticism.

So be a good egg and pat someone on the back today — gently.

Managers: Consider a mentorship program as a way to give new hires a guide to your workplace and a career development program for your entire team.

Employees: Ask your boss to help with your career development plan to show your interest in improvement and to encourage coaching.

This post has been updated to reflect more current information.