Handling Constructive Criticism like a Professional

We’ve all been at the end of harsh criticism at some point in our lives. Whether it’s coming from a parent, a coach, a teacher, or the online community, it’s always present. And it can make or break some people. Criticism has the power to shatter confidence, make us second guess ourselves, lower our self-esteem, and make us feel over all not good enough.

Naturally, no one is perfect, we all will make mistakes at some point in or lives. Whether it’s a poor decision or a half-assed day at work it will happen to us all. I think what we tend to forget is that mistakes allow us to learn, to become better versions of ourselves. In the end as cliche as it sounds they make us stronger. So why to we take any form of criticism so poorly? I agree that there is a right way to correct someone or inform them of their mistakes, but I think that a lot of us become too defensive upon any questions of our character.

For example, say you are a model and you are doing a second day of a photoshoot on a Tuesday morning. You just arrived and are making sure your outfit, hair and makeup are ready to go. One of the photographers approaches you and says, “hey, when you get a minute I’d like to talk to you about some of the photos from yesterday.” Most people immediately assume the worst. A hundred possible scenarios go through your head about what you might have done wrong and how you are doing to defend yourself. You walk over to the photographer and your hackles are raised, you’re prepared for the attack. The photographer looks at you with your arms crossed and your face set and seems confused. “I wanted to show you these five images. They came out so great and I thought you’d like a preview before we start today,” You lean in to see and you are so relieved it wasn’t something bad that you don’t even really notice the compliment for what it was. This mindset of assuming the worst is the problem.

What it comes down to is this: Everyone is different, and especially within the creative community there will be a lot of different ideas and opinions circling about. You as a person cannot control the actions of others. You will receive all kinds of criticism and feedback. So while the nature of it, positive/negative is out of your control you can control how you react to it and that makes all of the difference. Easier said than done…right? Below are a few suggestions to help you change the way you receive feedback. In doing so you will become a stronger, more well-rounded professional.

1. First and foremost take a moment before going into any meeting. You need to be prepared for the interaction whether its good or bad. If you go in with a healthy and open mindset you will take everything with a better attitude. Of course criticism will bruise your ego a little bit, but preparation is key in helping you to take everything in, turn it over in your mind, and understand what you should do with it. The beauty of feedback is you can choose whether to believe it or not. Your options are simple, either take it and change, or listen to it, understand it and move on not altering a thing.

2. Imagine the feedback being given to someone else. When we are not intimately involved in a situation we tend to be able to see it for exactly what it is. Remember most of the time criticism is given sensitively because people tend to not enjoy putting others down. Therefore in some cases we behave irrationally when we receive feedback because we automatically perceive it as mean or too negative. This comes from the lack of personal separation.

3. Change your mindset. Rather than view criticism/feedback as negative see it as an opportunity. Even if it comes across as harsh be thankful for it. Regardless of who it’s coming from or how it will always be a teaching moment. It will either teach you about yourself, or even teach you how to not give feedback to someone else in the future.

4. Make the effort to reflect on feedback both praise and judgement after the fact. Sit and think about what you did right and how you did it that way. At the same time review what you could have done better or what you handled poorly and think of some ideas for how you could do that task better in the future. Let’s use the model example again. You are on location in New York City in January. The crew says you did an amazing job executing the walk down the alley. Rather than simply take the compliment and move on. Think about it. How did you accomplish that? Was it easy? Were you aware you were doing it correctly? Then they tell you that you handled the cold weather poorly. You complained a lot, and wanted everything to be done early. This is the kind of thing people will get defensive about. And you can think to yourself that it was cold and that you had every right to behave the way you did, but then go home, reflect and understand that the photoshoot was your job for the day and you should have been better prepared and ready to tough it out.

5. Develop the habit of seeking out feedback and understanding the kind you respond well to. You won’t always be told you are doing a good job, and it’s healthy not to expect constant positive reinforcement for a task well done. At the same time you won’t always be told when you could be doing something better, so strive to seek that out. As a professional this reflects very well on you, and it truly makes you a better individual.It’s ok to feel disappointed in yourself  or to have your feelings hurt, and pride injured because that is what forces us to grow in the long run.

In terms of how you like your feedback, look at it this way. As individuals we know how we like our coffee, our tea, and or eggs in the morning, but we can’t think maturely about how we prefer to be given criticism. Some questions to ask yourself are: what was your best experience with feedback and who gave it to you and how? and vice versa your worst experience? Do you have trigger words, any words or phrases that make you automatically defensive? Do you prefer visuals/examples or talking out of an office setting? There’s no right answer only what is best for you.

My challenge to all of you creatives out there is to change the way you perceive criticism/feedback. Make it positive even when it comes to you in a negative way. And don’t be afraid to have those conversations with professionals where you thank them for their advice and insight and then go on to explain the way you receive feedback most effectively. Together we can help each other become better versions of ourselves as long as we all approach projects with an open mind and a willingness to listen to what others have to say.

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