Do you find accepting constructive criticism difficult or are you one of those people who can graciously accept any comments?
For some the moment they hear the words of critique, the heartbeat quickens and the mind begins to race—first in search of an explanation for this assault on their person and then for a retort to rationalize whatever actions are in question. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, you may be tempted to react with defensiveness and anger – or even attack the very person trying to help by giving us feedback.
So how do you learn to back off the defensive? Taking constructive criticism is a great way to identify our weaknesses and focus on areas of improvement. If we can learn to handle it calmly and professionally while maintaining a positive working relationship – it can only make us a better teacher.
No one likes criticism, but constructive advice is intended to help a situation, not make it worse. If you find yourself in the position of accepting constructive criticism after an appraisal, observation or Ofsted inspection, here are some guidelines for making the best use of someone’s good intentions.
When a person is trying to tell you something negative, it is easy to get hurt and focus only on the critical aspects of the discussion. You might be tempted to jump into the conversation and deal with the negative points rather than wait to hear what the speaker truly intended. It is best to hear the speaker out, asking only brief questions for clarity, if needed. Give the person a chance to fully explain any concerns that are being described.
Maintain a positive attitude with facial expression and body language. Try to stay focused on the entire message. Make a note of any points you plan to address when it is your turn to speak. The person who is speaking to you will appreciate your willingness to get the whole story before responding too quickly.
Be Sure You Understand
In accepting constructive criticism, you will need to understand fully what has been shared with you. You don’t have to accept responsibility for something that doesn’t make sense or that isn’t clear. After hearing what the speaker has to say, take time to ask questions or make comments to confirm your understanding of the situation being explained to you. One helpful approach is to reword what you think has been said and then ask if it is correct. Here are some examples:
“So you are concerned that my marking is not detailed enough? Is that correct?”
- Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue
- Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute
- Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue.
Seek specific solutions to address the feedback:
“I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”
Try to hone in on the main point being shared. This technique helps keep the speaker’s message clearer. Staying focused will help you to deal with a single issue rather than try to sort out a host of complexities.
Acknowledge the other person’s point of view
As you listen, you may begin to disagree inwardly and eagerly await your chance to respond. But try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Giving criticism is not easy and your colleague may feel uncomfortable. Ask yourself – would you respect this colleague if they ignored a problem and allowed it to develop in to a larger problem?
The art of accepting criticism is to see the other’s goal in offering it. No one is perfect, and the person who is taking time to point out a problem for you, obviously cares enough about you to try and help. Respect their position and duty in bringing this information to you, no matter how difficult it may seem at first.
Don’t Become Defensive
All of us want to be accepted and appreciated. It can be embarrassing and disappointing when others notice a problem or a mistake we have made. Being open to learning and growing is a desirable characteristic so don’t feel that you have to go into defence mode. No one is perfect! Remember you have a valuable opportunity to learn from constructive criticism and will become a better teacher. While you may indeed have useful information that will enlighten the speaker or at least explain your actions, don’t share those facts in a self-righteous way. Instead, try to maintain a humble but positive outlook that will make it easy for others to work with you.
Avoid escalating tensions
When discussing setbacks or limitations, a potential for escalating tensions is created. When we feel overly criticized or misunderstood, it becomes natural to bring up past issues or current problems that might otherwise have been overlooked. This is not the time to put all cards on the table, though. It is better to focus on the issue at hand and reserve any other concerns for a later time, unless they are related directly to the current issue. If needed – take some time away from the situation and allow yourself to cool off.
Of course, accepting constructive criticism doesn’t mean that you should let yourself be belittled or harangued, but someone who really is offering constructive feedback will not do those things. Look for the positive aspects of the feedback without trying to take the conflict to the next level; avoid slipping into a tit-for-tat mentality.
Follow up with positive action
After accepting criticism graciously, accept the responsibility for making changes that will help matters improve. Some people will pretend to accept criticism, but then fail to make the necessary adjustments. Following up with suitable action will show others that you know how to accept criticism and can actually put it to good use, which will enhance your professional image and potentially improve personal relationships. You might even want to keep a written record of any changes that you do make so if the situation is later revisited, you have documentation that demonstrates your willingness to follow helpful feedback.
Take the initiative
You don’t have to wait for others to take the initiative in giving you constructive criticism. You can ask those whose opinion and expertise you trust for advice or suggestions to help you do a better job or avoid making the same mistake. Let others know if you need help or are struggling before problems become apparent. Most people are more than willing to provide assistance or answer questions to help you do a better job. Accepting the advice of others is the hallmark of an open mind and cooperative spirit.
Don’t hold a grudge
Staying angry/upset about criticism can affect your future work. Focus instead on doing the best job possible and accept the fact that others may see things differently to you. Even if you don’t agree with the criticism, others may be seeing something that you are not even aware of. Allow for the fact that others may be right, and use that possibility to look within yourself.
Say Thank You
Remember constructive criticism is there to help you so take the time to say. Expressing appreciation doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share their thoughts. Being able to accept and learn from constructive criticism is a sign of maturity and wisdom.