Consider the Source

Honest feedback is a rare commodity; very few people will trust someone enough to open up and tell you exactly what they think.  When you hear a piece of honest, thoughtful criticism, you should be grateful.  Criticism is a gift; knowing where you stand is valuable intelligence, even when that knowledge stings.  Here are some tips for dealing with criticism.

First, consider the source.  If the harsh words are coming from someone who doesn’t know you well, you may tend to disregard the input.  But that would be a mistake.  Great brands listen not only to their loyal fans, but also seek the input of people who don’t buy their products.  Opinions of people who don’t know you well can give you insight as to how your brand is perceived.  The brilliant presentation you gave at the board meeting?  Not so much. To the audience, it seemed dull and full of hard to follow statistics.  Do they know how hard you worked on it?  No – and they don’t care.  Your coworkers do, and their praise for it was based in part on your effort – not the outcome.

When the source of criticism is someone who knows you well, you automatically give the feedback more weight, and you should.  This is someone who’s watched you for a while and has factored in your intentions as well as your outcomes. This person may also have to think about being able to live or work with you after delivering the feedback.  If you’re getting feedback that’s hard to take, it’s probably hard to deliver, too.  After all, they’re taking a risk – you may get angry, tearful, or end the relationship.  If this person is someone you respect and admire, you must consider their input and think about making a change for the better. 

Here are some ideas to consider (courtesy of Danielle LaPorte, who writes the blog White Hot Truth.)

Admit that it stings. “Ouch. That’s hard to hear. But I’m up for it.” Honesty when criticized is a great equalizer and a show of nobility and maturity.

Don’t react…yet. Sometimes it’s best to just listen and simply say, “I’ve heard you. Let me process what you’ve said and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.” So many of us are so adrift from our deep sensitivity that it takes some time to clearly know how we feel. So just take the time, it’s better than a half-cocked reaction that you’ll regret.

Be compassionate to your criticizer. This can really soften the situation. Giving honest criticism is no fun for most people, and it’s often a case of, “This is going to hurt me as much as it might hurt you.”

My best advice when faced with something that’s difficult to hear: say “Thank you” first. “Thank you for telling me this; I appreciate your honesty/courage/ caring enough /to come to me with difficult feedback. Although I’m stinging a bit right now, you can be sure I’ll give your feedback some careful consideration.”

2 thoughts on “Consider the Source

  1. Thank you, Candace! Your posts are always timely and insightful.

    I’m curious about how to seek out honest criticism from colleagues. I am especially interested in learning how I am perceived. It has been more than a year since I have had a job, and two and a half years since I worked in my field. It’s difficult to judge my professional reputation or how well my networking has paid off without a built-in system of coworkers, managers or reviews.

    My friends and colleagues are terrific people who shower me with accolades, but they are less likely to offer areas of improvement. Without a project to evaluate, how does one get feedback?


    1. What a great question! I know how hard it can be to improve if you don’t ever receive constructive feedback. It’s not that the accolades may not be true; it’s that they simply don’t help you grow. I have a couple of suggestions. One is to ask more specific questions about your performance. For instance, if you are working on writing skills, you won’t get much if you ask “How did you like that article?” Instead, take what you want feedback about and call it out specifically. “I wasn’t sure that I explained the technical aspects of the changes to the law well. Were they easy for you to follow? Could you explain them to someone else from your casual reading?”

      Another approach is to find someone whose skills and professionalism you admire and ask him or her to provide you with feedback. Be sure to lay out what you’re looking for: “I hope to improve my XYZ skills, and I am looking for honest and specific feedback on how I …” I have had requests like this, and have been able to be helpful.
      I hope these suggestions help. Keep reading and commenting – I love to hear from my audience!


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