Constructive criticism: How to handle negative feedback (and make the most of it)
Anyone who believes that giving criticism is easier than receiving it has not experienced the first situation. Feedback, the necessary exercise in the work environment, is not always easy because it is never exclusively positive (and if it is, it is incomplete).
Nevertheless, it is possible and desirable to give or receive negative feedback without losing heart and to make the most of it. Criticising certain aspects of the working process, when done properly, is the best way to correct procedures, enhance productivity, and even improve the work environment. The question is: how can it be done?
When you are the critic ...
Start with yourself
The ultimate test of professionalism and objectivity (and the most effective way to encourage openness from the other person) is simple: begin with yourself. Assume your share of responsibility as a project manager or leader and commit to doing better, with precise and measurable objectives. This not only demonstrates honesty but also opens the lines of communication, making it easier to address the areas that need improvement.
Focus on processes, not individuals
Remember that the goal is to correct working methods or refine processes to achieve better results, not to reprimand anyone. Therefore, direct your criticism towards the professional aspects, avoiding personal references and judgmental language. This approach facilitates the person's receptiveness to the feedback and helps prevent a defensive reaction. Additionally, take the opportunity to highlight positive aspects at the beginning and end of the feedback session.
Practice active listening and encourage reflection
After pointing out the processes that need correction, create a space for the recipient of the feedback to express their viewpoint and contribute ideas for process improvement. However, guide the conversation carefully to prevent it from becoming an exercise in justification, but rather a constructive contribution.
Reflect on the feedback
Your own approach to the dialogue, especially if you are not an expert, can also be improved. The level of sincerity and the tone of the conversation can be learned, just like any other communication skill. It's important to acknowledge and review your own mistakes. Be self-critical.
When you are on the receiving end of criticism ...
Learn from the ordeal
When you receive negative feedback about a specific aspect of your work, focus your reaction on learning. Ensure you understand the identified mistake and the areas for improvement. This will prevent you from perceiving it as a personal attack.
Take time before responding
When faced with negative criticism, refrain from giving an immediate response. Allow yourself time to process the feedback and consider the best course of action. The initial impulse may be to deny the mistakes or defend yourself, so it's better to wait until you can respond with a calmer mindset.
Conduct your own evaluation
With honesty and self-criticism, independently assess the processes or habits for which you received negative feedback. Analyse whether all criticisms are fair and draw your own conclusions, striving for objectivity.
Show appreciation through actions, not excessive apologies. When someone points out our mistakes, our first instinct is often to apologise. While it is appropriate and appreciated, there is no need to overdo it.
Instead, invest your time in thinking about how to improve aspects of your performance and demonstrate sustained improvement over time.