There are very few people who can take criticism graciously, even when it’s constructive and we know it to be the truth. For the majority of us the knee jerk reaction is to get defensive. After all it feels like it’s our character that is being attacked and the natural reaction is to hit back by either defending our actions or going after the person who is giving the criticism. However, this is seldom helpful, especially in the workplace. We need to be able to accept constructive criticism and have a greater level of self-awareness, if not, how else will we ever improve or learn?

Self-awareness and criticism

Often we are not aware of things we say or do, or how we go about things unless someone else points them out to us. You may think that you are simply being direct when you answer a question or ask for something, yet your tone may come across as harsh and abrasive, and you could be offending or even intimidating people without knowing it. On the other end of the scale if you are shy by nature and seldom share your thoughts, people may misinterpret this as you being a snob.

Gaining a greater level of self-awareness is key to personal growth and career development. Colleagues and managers are well placed to provide feedback that can help with this self-awareness. So how do you go about preventing that knee-jerk reaction and learning how to take criticism in a positive way? Here are five steps to help you become better at taking constructive criticism.

1 – Pause and breathe

Before you start to react, stop and take a deep breath. Pause for a moment and just listen, don’t interrupt or respond, hear them out. Giving constructive criticism is almost as hard as hearing it, so give the other person a chance to get through what they have to say and explain why they feel the need to bring certain things to your attention.

2 – Listen constructively

Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, there may well be validity in what they are saying. Ask yourself: “If this is true, is it hindering my career? What could be the outcome if I changed how I do things?” Choose to hear the positive aspects of what is being said rather than just labelling it as personal criticism. Use it to build a greater level of self-awareness.

3 – Get more info

If you truly do not understand where the other person is coming from, and even if you do, before responding, try get more clarity on the situation. Is the behavior they are referring to a specific isolated event that took place or is it consistent with the general way you operate? For example: If they are saying you come across as being aggressive, it’s important to clarify if they see it as the exception or the norm. It could be that you felt strongly about a particular point being raised in a meeting which got you all worked up. Before trying to justify your actions, ask more detailed questions and get specifics so that you have the whole picture before responding.

4 – Appreciate the perspective

This is an important step because it forces you to start seeing things from a different perspective and learning from the experience. Just knowing others are seeing things differently from how you see them helps you to start to develop a greater level of self-awareness. Specifically when you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, if you have that self-awareness you can change your actions and it may well influence how people respond to you.

When receiving feedback, express your gratitude to the person giving it. When constructive criticism is received well, then people will be more confident of being able to give you feedback again in the future. They will also see you as someone who is willing to learn and change and this is often a key factor when organizations are looking for people to promote.

5 – Do things differently in future

The purpose of receiving constructive criticism is so that you can change and act differently in the future. However, without using the feedback to create a greater self-awareness this is unlikely to happen. Be conscious of trigger points that could get you riled up in a meeting and use this to temper and manage the way in which you react. Make an effort to monitor the tone used when speaking to different people and specifically notice if it changes the way they respond to you.

Personal growth happens when you have a greater level of self-awareness and this is vital for a positive career progression. Don’t fight the change, embrace the opportunity and you could find you not only learn a great deal more about yourself but also ways to have a more positive influence on your workplace.