The Key To Making Criticism Useful

Ever experience the gut-wrenching sucker punch that leaves you ready to drop kick someone, either literally or with your words?

This feeling often comes right after someone tells you what a terrible job you did, how you should have done something differently, or how disappointed s/he is that you didn’t know better.

The feeling is exacerbated, along with the reaction of irritation and possibly even rage, when such remarks are “offered” in a public setting.

By noticing how you respond to critical feedback in non-threatening areas of your life, you can help make feedback in other areas of your life beneficial.

Receiving critical feedback on your technique in the gym, for example, might be a great deal easier than receiving critical feedback in your career, parenting or wardrobe selection. Non-threatening areas of your life can become training ground for the areas where the feedback feels threatening.

(Side note: be sure to consider the source when opening yourself up to feedback, positive or negative. Ask yourself—Do they have my best interest in mind, and are they credible? “Yes” to both is essential.)

Recently, a talented trainer at the gym where I workout approached me in the middle of my workout to let me know my technique in the deadlift was wrong. Because I know her credentials, trust her, and was not attached to being the best deadlifter, I was happy to learn from her expertise. The result? A twenty-pound increase in my deadlift the following week.

On the flipside, I received constructive feedback on a speech I gave from three credible sources. The feedback was clear, specific, unanimous, and… gut wrenching. After spending weeks struggling with the feedback, I took an honest look at why the feedback was so difficult.

As I listened, I heard myself thinking, “I should’ve already known this. Why can’t I seem to get this right?” Listening closer, I heard, “How do I make sure this never happens again? How do you get it right—perfect?”

This would not happen in a gym environment. Why? Because I don’t think I should already know, nor do I have the same need for perfection. I simply show up, do my workout, and make adjustments (improvements) constantly. And—I have fun with it.

Wanting to have that same joyful experience of feedback in other areas of my life, I began thinking about how I needed to shift my thinking with feedback. Here’s what I came up with—

  1. Accept reality and start where you are. The discomfort and tension arose because I thought I should’ve already known something that I didn’t. When we care about our results, and want to do our best, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking we should know something that we don’t.
  2. Abolish perfectionistic thinking. The discomfort you feel is there because you care about the results you create—celebrate that reality, and then appreciate the endless opportunities for improvement.
  3. Appreciate the feedback. Consider assuming that all feedback is meant to be helpful. If it’s not, ask yourself, “Why am I resisting? What am I afraid of?” And then, get the support you need to get the results you crave.

The key is to recognize the areas of your life where feedback is easy to receive, and then use those experiences to instruct you on how to approach feedback in more charged situations.

By strengthening your ability to learn and grow regardless of other people’s capacity to say it nicely, the power ends up back in your hands.

The more you practice, the easier it is to transform criticism into creative fodder for improved results. If you don’t care about the results you’re getting, the feedback isn’t a big deal.

Rather than beat yourself up, honor your caring and get the support you need to improve.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

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