BY ROB SMENTEKMy favorite moment in my seven-year-old daughter’s softball season wasn’t when she hit a line-drive double over the pitcher’s head, or when she threw out a runner at first, or even when the team came from behind to clinch a spot in the championship playoffs. It was a small moment during a practice, when after missing a few pitches, the coach pulled her aside and suggested a change in her technique. Sure enough, she fixed her stance, and her very next swing was a shot down the third base line. I was blown away by her acceptance of the coach’s feedback and her ability to immediately put it into action.
The sports team analogy is useful in describing the value of constructive criticism. Your company is a team and no matter what role you play, you’re essentially all working together for one goal: winning. As such, there will be times when a supervisor may have to step in and coach you so that your performance meets his expectations for the overall team. Remember that no one bats 1000.
So whether you’re a seven-year-old athlete or a professional chauffeur, there are times when we might get offered a bit of constructive criticism to change up our games or tighten our moves. And while no one likes to have their shortcomings or errors pointed out, learning to accept and act on the advice we receive will likely help you—and the company—in the long run.
The following are some tips to help you get the most out of constructive criticism. While this article is geared toward staff positions, its advice can apply to company owners as well. Customers and even employees, at times, offer their own versions of constructive criticism. Accepting it graciously and listening can only help make your business stronger and more palatable to those clients who did take the time to offer their feedback.
Don’t Take It Personally
When a supervisor or client comes to us with a concern over a mistake or difference in procedure, it’s generally our first instinct to be embarrassed or even defensive. But before you react—or overreact—it is integral to understand that this isn’t an attack on you as a person or employee. Take a deep breath and have an open mind. Constructive criticism (in most cases) is not an insult; it’s just different means to accomplish a task.
If your manager or supervisor approaches you with suggestions, it’s largely because he has faith that you’ll not only understand the advice but also be willing and able to implement it. Constructive criticism usually comes from a positive place: “We’re happy with your performance, but would like you to do this task a different way...” Also, consider the big picture: What’s being suggested is designed to help the team work toward the common goal. Think of it as editing: The structure is there, but a little refinement and a few tweaks will make it an even better piece in the end.
Once you remove any defensiveness from the situation, really take the time to listen to what’s being asked of you and why."
Keep in mind that there is a big difference between a reprimand and constructive criticism. A reprimand is designed to immediately stop negative behavior, not offer a means of change. Most often, you’ll only be reprimanded after a serious infraction or after a customer complaint. The tone is generally much harsher, and carries greater consequence, than with constructive criticism—though ignored constructive criticisms will most likely become an admonishment after your performance doesn’t improve. A workplace reprimand will often be followed up with some sort of official documentation that will go in a personnel file.
Once you remove any defensiveness from the situation, really take the time to listen to what’s being asked of you and why. Don’t jump to any conclusions and certainly don’t start preparing any counterpoints. Pay attention and learn from what’s being offered.
Let’s say your method of taking a reservation is more time-consuming than others. Your supervisor might be offering a solution that can save you—and the client—time, which may make your job easier at the end of the day. Or, maybe you’re a chauffeur who’s consistently on-time, but just isn’t connecting with the client. The senior chauffeur may take notice and give you some tips on building a rapport with your passengers. Taking this to heart won’t just ingratiate you with the company, but it could also mean a bigger gratuity after the ride, referrals and commendations from the client, and a happy company owner who sees that his chauffeur is in high demand.
Remember, the intent of the conversation is to be CONSTRUCTIVE, so build on what’s being offered to you.
After your superior is done speaking, prove that you’ve taken in his message by asking specific questions. Get details and examples. Show that you’re not only willing to accept his feedback, but also interested and invested in understanding it further.
As you begin to take the advice to heart and work on improving yourself, let your supervisor know how things are going. Tell him how his suggestion has changed your routine, and even better, share when you see things working. If you’re a reservationist who was reminded to ask the client if he needs transportation at their destination, let your boss know when you’ve successfully booked some affiliate work. They will not only be pleased that you’ve garnered some more business, but also know that you’ve listened and put their suggestion to work.
Nothing shows commitment more than being active in communicating your progress. This proves that you take your position seriously and you’re willing to work to be a true team player.
Conversely, if you’re having difficulty adjusting to a new way of doing things, ask for help. For instance, if you’re a dispatcher struggling with a new procedure, be honest and request further guidance. Again, this suggests a willingness to learn. There’s nothing worse than slipping back into an “old” routine.
Say Thank You
For most people, this is often the most perplexing aspect for accepting constructive criticism: “You want me to thank someone for criticizing my work?” Frankly, yes.
By taking the time to offer constructive criticism, your supervisor is investing in you. He believes in your ability to adapt to change and believes you have something more to offer. Simply put, he wants you around. Look at that feedback as a personal test and work hard to meet the challenge. Successfully changing your routine speaks volumes about you as a professional, and isn’t likely to be forgotten.
So thanking someone for constructive criticism is appropriate, especially given the rash manner that some executives deal with employees who make mistakes.
In short, when you accept someone’s constructive criticism, you aren’t acquiescing to doing things “his way”; think of it as working toward a shared goal by doing it “our way.”[CD0816]