How to Learn From Harsh Criticism
Haters gonna hate (possibly including your boss). But with the right strategies, negative feedback can actually help you grow.
In the three years since my first book came out, I’ve never read a single Amazon or Goodreads review of it. Not one.
To be honest, my delicate ego can’t handle it. When an anonymous online writing critique or a two-star review titled “Disappointed” has the potential to upend my mental state, I figure it’s healthier to stick my fingers in my ears and take a la la la I can’t hear you approach to negative feedback.
That said, I also understand how refusing to hear or act on any criticism at all could become self-sabotaging. That’s because for most of us, having a boss, a client, a friend, or a partner point out our flaws is what gives us the self-knowledge and motivation we need to grow. Ultimately, learning to properly metabolize difficult feedback makes us better humans. And I know that if I can learn to take it well, it will make me a better writer, too.
How do you grow skin thick enough that criticism won’t undo you, but not so thick that you can’t absorb the feedback that can truly help? Here are a few expert strategies I came across in my quest to do just that.
Acknowledge that it sucks
“Feedback sits right at this junction of two pretty core human needs,” explains Sheila Heen, the co-author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. “On the one hand, we actually do want to learn and grow. And yet we bump into a second need, which is the human need to be accepted and respected and loved the way we are now. Feedback can suggest that how I am now is not totally okay.”
In other words, a knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness or anger is 100% normal. Just don’t let big emotions be the end of the story. Instead, get curious about their origin story. Ask yourself: Why does this feedback upset me? Because it’s unfair? Or because there might be a kernel of truth?
When a co-worker says something hard to hear, like “You always put down other peoples’ ideas…