Hearing constructive feedback and listening to it are two different things. When a manager offers a well-meaning opinion, it's easy to take offense and ignore observations that could be helpful. Bosses play a big role in your professional growth, so it's wise to ask questions and think objectively about constructive feedback without getting upset. Learning to listen when you don't agree is tough, but it's a skill that can help you excel in any job.
Absorb Now, Respond Later
Criticism always sounds worse the first time you hear it. Finding out you're doing something wrong or falling short is difficult to swallow, and many people are unable to get past their initial emotions. Don't rush to defend yourself or vent to a co-worker. Just absorb the feedback, and try to understand your boss's perspective. Thank your manager for being honest and ask for a few moments to reflect on the matter, giving yourself time to react calmly.
Be Inquisitive, Not Dismissive
Avoid the urge to look for "wrongs" in constructive feedback, says Sheila Heen and Debbie Goldstein, negotiation coaches at Harvard Law School and Triad Consulting Group. They define "wrong-spotting" as the tendency to search for negative factors motivating the feedback. As Heen and Goldstein point out, people often speak in absolute terms when they're actually referring to specific behaviors or circumstances.
Let's say a manager advises you to be more organized. The boss might think you're generally good at managing projects, but have concerns about why you missed a recent deadline. The only way to get the real facts is to probe for more information.
Dig for Clarifying Details
Ask questions to understand your boss's perspective and intentions. Whether or not your boss is good at articulating constructive feedback, recognize the possibility that she could be right. Be humble as you navigate this tricky terrain, showing the manager you value professional growth. Phrases that seem straightforward often have many interpretations, so request clarification. For example, if the boss says you don't communicate well, ask her how she defines good communication and what you could do differently.
Compare Your Perspectives
Accepting constructive feedback is harder when one or both parties lack vital details about the situation. If you missed a big deadline because your boss piled on low-stakes side tasks, explain why you prioritized things a specific way. However, try not to take an accusatory stance, as you don't want your manager to feel attacked.
Leading with questions is an effective way to ease tension. For instance, avoid saying, "You gave me too much work." Instead, respond with, "I wasn't sure how important X, Y and Z tasks were and I didn't want to bother you. Should I check in with you to prioritize the schedule in the future?" This approach gives your manager room to weigh in and provide clearer instructions, giving you both a better plan of action.
When you still disagree after having a productive discussion, respect your boss's authority and receive constructive feedback with a positive mindset. While you're free to accept or reject advice, the manager has the power to take disciplinary action if you don't demonstrate progress. If you consistently feel the manager's constructive feedback is off base, consider finding a job where you have better chemistry with the team.
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