All employees know they can become better bosses by learning how to give better feedback. Learning to accept criticism is a less recognized--and less frequently taught--skill.
As recruiting blog Fistful of Talent noted recently, programs to teach managers to get better at critiquing employees abound. Advice on how to accept, process, and act on criticism is much rarer. Which is a shame, author Tara Mohr pointed out in a recent piece for the New York Times Sunday Review. If you do substantive work of any kind, she notes, you're going to get criticized. It's imperative you learn to deal with it.
The article is pitched at women in particular, who studies show are both more likely to be criticized (and in particularly personal terms) than men, and also more likely to be socialized to focus on likability and avoid upsetting others. But while the issue is most acute for women, the tips Mohr offers for those looking to grow a thicker skin are clearly useful to all workers who find themselves avoiding risky work or tough calls for fear of the negative feedback they might get. Here are the three takeaway tricks Mohr offers in the course of her thoughtful piece:
1. Get a role model
Dealing with criticism is often a matter of in-the-moment emotions rather than cool rational calculation. It helps to have someone you can whip out as an instant inspiration when you sense you're getting upset. Mohr suggests entrepreneurs identify a role model whose response to criticism they admire. "In challenging situations, she can imagine how the admired woman might respond, and thereby see some new possible responses for herself," Mohr writes.
2. Understand it's about them, not you
Those who are best at accepting criticism aren't simply those with the thickest skins. We don't want all criticism to simply bounce off--some of it is valuable feedback we can benefit from considering. Ideally, we want to prevent criticism from upsetting us while still learning from it.
Even if a comment is personal or unhelpful on the surface, it's still useful information about the personality of the speaker, Mohr points out. So try "interpreting feedback as providing information about the preferences and point of view of the person giving the feedback," she writes. If five investors pass on your pitch, take that as intel on what those investors are looking for rather than a reflection of the promise of you or your business idea (the same goes for rave receptions, Mohr reminds entrepreneurs). "With that reframing, women can filter which feedback they need to incorporate to achieve their aims, without the taxing emotional highs and lows," she concludes.
3. Take a look in the mirror
The criticisms that sting the worst are often the ones that confirm a secret fear we carry about ourselves. If you're a supermodel, you're more likely to laugh off being called ugly, after all. It's only the negative comments we find plausible that really wound us. You can use this fact to transform the critiques that make you most emotional into a powerful tool for self-betterment, according to Mohr.
"When a woman is being held back by fear of a particular criticism or paralyzed by a harsh criticism received in the past, she can also turn inward and ask herself, 'Does that criticism in some way mirror what I believe about myself? When and why did that negative self-concept arise? Does it reflect the truth?'" she advises.