The Four Steps That Help Me Embrace Constructive Criticism

Adopt the SAIG mindset

Credit: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

ItIt can be difficult to receive feedback without getting defensive. Our brains treat criticism, even constructive criticism, as a threat to our self-esteem. As our hearts start pounding, we want to shout, “But it’s not my fault! I tried my best!”

This is a normal reaction, and certainly one that I’ve experienced. Throughout my career as an engineer and a manager, I have both received and given plenty of notes, critiques, and suggestions. What has helped me become more open to feedback — welcoming of feedback, even — is adopting what I call the SAIG mindset, short for separate, appreciate, intent, growth.

The SAIG mindset helps me to stay positive, so I can make the most out of constructive feedback. Not only has it allowed me to learn a ton from many of my colleagues, it has also strengthened my relationships with them. Here’s how it works.

Separate the human from the work

Sometimes, when someone tells us that something is wrong with our work, our brains translate that as, something is wrong with us. But those are two very different statements, and it’s important that you don’t let feedback on your professional behaviors feel like judgment on you as a human being.

I’m confident that I am an awesome and caring person — this is something that’s not on the table for discussion. At the same time, I can always improve my effectiveness at work. When I’m able to separate myself from my work, I don’t feel attacked or shamed by feedback, so I’m able to take it in and think about how I can do better.

Appreciate the effort that goes into constructive feedback

It’s much easier to say nothing at all than it is to offer constructive criticism. People share their feedback with me because they care about my growth and the success of the organization. When someone gives you feedback, take a moment to be grateful for it — it means they’re paying attention.

Assume positive intent

People get defensive when they receive feedback if they think the person giving it has negative intentions — for instance, that they’re trying to place the blame on someone else, to cover up their own mistakes. But I always assume that when people give me feedback, they simply want to help me become better.

Commit to growth

Everyone has blind spots, and everyone has room to grow. I’m committed to getting better and more effective at my job, and if someone can help me identify my blind spots and give me candid feedback, they are doing me a huge favor. Constructive feedback is one of the most effective and efficient ways to level me up.

The SAIG mindset takes a lot of practice. One way to inhabit it more fully is to keep it in mind when giving constructive criticism as well. Focus on giving feedback that’s nonjudgmental, actionable, caring, and helps the person grow, and it will get easier to receive feedback in the same way.

Chief Architect @Medium. Serving Engineers. Teaching Machines. The ultimate goal of tech is to help us live better. Built @PatternInsight PhD @IllinoisCS UCSD

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