Learning comes in two parts: knowledge and application. The space between gaining knowledge and actually applying it can be frustrating. We can’t unlearn something once we know it, but knowing it doesn’t change our actions. That’s my relationship with critique.
I know that constructive critique will grow me, but I still dread it or get defensive when receiving it. This has become most apparent for me the last few months, so I’ve identified my natural responses and decided to use this space to process healthier approaches.
Explaining versus Understanding
The more I learn about effective communication, the more I realize that people often communicate selfishly. We engage with others based on our interpretations and our needs without paying attention to what’s actually being said. I usually do this when someone gives me feedback. I feel the need to explain why I did something, but if I unpack that, my need to explain is often rooted in the need to be validated as a competent person in that moment.
Explaining is something I often do for me, not for the person with whom I’m talking. Instead of letting that be my natural response, it would be more helpful to seek understanding of the feedback. This is difficult for me because I’m a processer who usually has to sit with information. Yet, in the moment, it’s most important to get to the root of what’s being said and a simple, “What I hear you saying is…” can help clarify for both parties.
Combating versus Considering
As a recovering perfectionist, it is uncomfortable for me to hear critique that isn’t positively delivered (usually in a compliment sandwich). Most recently I noticed this when working on a script with other writers. A section of script I worked on was up for discussion with comments like, “Who wrote this?” or “This isn’t realistic.” The delivery ignited my defensiveness which led to a combative response. (I don’t remember what I said, but I can recall how I felt.)
In hindsight, our co-writing conversations were often casual because of our close relationships, yet it was difficult to process the sarcastic delivery when I felt my contribution and ability were under attack. Once again, this was a personal problem. Perfectionism has caused me to view feedback as a negative thing, and as a result I had a visceral defensive response. Because those moments usually cause me to tense up, I can start by taking slow deep breaths to release the negative energy I’m bringing to the situation. Appropriate critiques, regardless of delivery, are rarely personal attacks, so if we remove ourselves and adjust our perception of critique, we can objectively consider other perspectives.
Shutting Down versus Articulating
There are times where talking through feedback is necessary outside of needing to defend oneself or ability. No matter how difficult, we need to be able to advocate for ourselves and communicate our needs. Even though I know this, my dismissive personality has made it difficult to accept. In the past, it’s been easier to cut people off rather than talk through the issue. This has also been apparent in business. If I feel like I’m not being heard by the majority, I prefer to shut down. Fortunately, because of my leadership positions, I’ve been forced to work through this.
I’m learning, in spite of the difficulty, to find the space to express my thoughts. Currently I do this two different ways. With my team, I usually give myself a moment to process and address the topic when I have gathered my thoughts and have more objectivity. If it’s in the moment, I usually communicate my need to process and take the time to slowly talk through what I’m thinking. Our ability to communicate in difficult moments is essential to growth.
As the title of this piece shows, I’m not perfect. When I noticed my negative energy around feedback, I felt it was important to share. Feedback isn’t meant to break us down, it’s meant to make us better; accept it and keep growing!
Feel free to share your tactics below!