Learning to take criticism is one of the most difficult things I have had to learn and I’m not sure I’m still all that great at it. It’s easier when I ask for it, but when it’s unsolicited, I’m not as likely to take it as well as I should. Why is that?
When I’m looking for it I think I’m more open to the possibility that I’m doing something wrong and I want somebody to help me with a gap or deficiency. When somebody volunteers it, however, I get defensive and feel like I need to put up walls so I’m not hurt. It feels more like an attack than a genuine desire on the other person’s part to help me grow and improve. And maybe that is the real difference.
When I go out of my way to find the correction, then I don’t see it as an attack, but as somebody looking to sincerely give feedback on a particular thing which I feel may need some help. I see them as wanting to help me improve because I’ve asked for it.
On the other hand, when it’s unsolicited, then I’m defensive because I feel the person has seen a weakness and there is the possibility I will not measure up and be removed from my place. This is even more pronounced when the person is an up-line supervisor or boss. Their opinion determines raises, bonuses and if I’ll even be around next week. All very important things to consider and when a boss tells me there are some things I need to improve without me asking for it, then that becomes a sign of weakness and I’m reluctant to open up because it feels even more like an attack.
The irony is that in both cases people are usually looking to help. The third case, when they notice but say nothing or even talk about your weakness to others and not to you, is really a sign of people who do not care about you and do not want to help you. And those are situations you have to try and be the most proactive about and find ways of asking that will help you improve and build your relationship with them in the process.
The image, titled “184-365 (Year 7) Thumbs down :(“, was taken by “George Redgrave”. You can find it on flickr.