Being open to what others have to say is one of the marks of a good leader. When the message is critical feedback, how leaders respond can either create on open communication environment or shut down interaction. While it may not always be easy to listen to criticism, it is essential to hone the skill of non-defensive listening and replying. Follow these guidelines to turn criticism into an opportunity to diminish your blind spots and build productive relationships with those around you.
Assume a learning attitude.
While you may want to defend your actions when others seem to be attacking, keep an open mind and be curious. Think of feedback as both helpful and interesting. Remind yourself that it is important to understand how others perceive your actions. How you respond sets a tone that can either promote an honest exchange or create fear of reprisal.
Show interest by encouraging the speaker and being engaged without interrupting. Nod your head if you agree. Ask questions to clarify or get more information. Reword to make sure you understand the criticism. If, by contrast, you say nothing, the communicator may assume you are uninterested or displeased with the message. If you are too quick to give your response, the other person may not feel fully heard. Take time to fully hear what is being said to you.
Respond with your point of view.
You may or may not agree with the criticism. If you agree, let the other person know you think the perception is valid. Indicate how you will use the feedback to make change moving forward. For example, if you are criticized for neglecting to include someone in an important meeting, you might say: You’re right. You should have been included and I will make sure, in the future, that you are part of the group. If you don’t agree with the criticism, state your viewpoint without arguing: I understand what you said, but I am not sure I agree. I didn’t include you in the meeting because it focused primarily on the budget, an area with which you are not directly involved. It sounds like you thought we would be discussing programmatic issues which were not part of the agenda.
If caught by surprise, buy time.
If the feedback was unexpected and alarming, take some time to think before responding. Be forthright and say you were taken by surprise and need some time to reflect on what was said. Don’t leave the person hanging. Schedule a time to meet and make your response.
If the conveyer of the critical message uses disrespectful language, halt the communication and say, I want to hear what you have to say, but not with those words and tone. Please start again. Remember “You teach other people how to treat you.” Make sure that your staff and colleagues learn how to respectfully approach you.
This is a critical component of receiving feedback. If you demonstrate that you are grateful that someone was open enough to challenge something you did, you leave the door open for continued honest communication. Make it easier for others to give you constructive criticism and eventually you will reduce the associated anxiety, making it a more natural part of free-flowing dialogue.
Receiving constructive criticism is a key to true employee engagement, teamwork, and self-growth. Capture the benefits by becoming at ease with hearing what others have to say.