How Do Emotionally Intelligent People Handle Criticism?

This article from INC. raises this question and then offers that the right way to address this is with acceptance, listening and taking steps for improvement.  Criticism is often rooted in truth.  We all are human and we all make mistakes.  The article provides examples of those that received criticism, learned from it, apologized and took concrete steps for improvement.  What a nice way to role model how to handle criticism.

Sometimes when others make mistakes they are beating themselves up.  I like to use the phrase that “this only proves to me that you to are human and that you too can’t walk on water.”   This usually brings a little relief to an otherwise tense situation, when someone comes to me with what turns out to be poor performance.  This had to be learned.  Then it was up to me to coach and help the party move forward.

Our reptilian brain tends to provide us with knee jerk reactions that would cause us to become angry at the other party and escalate the situation.  Who wins?  No one wins.  Everybody loses.  Later apologies are needed.  If instead we feel ourselves becoming angry and we can control our anger and enable ourselves to not become angry, then we can make this into a teachable moment. 

We may need to take a break, walk away, take several deep breaths, but in some way work to relieve our anxiety. When we do, we might find that we gave the wrong directions, we contributed in some way to the problem, or maybe it is entirely the other party’s fault.  Even if the other party is entirely at fault, we can make this a teachable moment and possibly help the other party learn from the situation.

This is not an excuse to overlook poor performance.  In my book The Servant Manager: 203 tips from the best places to work in America I offer several tips on point.

Tip 39 Provide Constructive Feedback

Tip 40 Receive Feedback with an Open Mind

Tip 41 Apply the Six Step Constructive Feedback Model

Tip 69 Ask Skillful Questions as an Alternative to Feedback

Tip 70 Minimize Defensiveness When Giving Feedback

Of these I want to share with you excerpts from Tip 40 with you.

Tip 40 Receive Feedback with an Open Mind

Receiving Feedback

How one receives feedback is equally important. You may receive feedback from someone who does not know how to give feedback properly. This can be a challenge too. You know what this feels like. So what should you do?

When receiving or reacting to feedback:

Breathe and take a deep breath – Our bodies react to stressful situations as though they were physical assaults. Taking full deep breaths forces your body to relax and allows your brain to maintain alertness.

Listen carefully – Don’t interrupt. Don’t discourage the person giving the feedback. You may even want to take notes to make sure you are correctly receiving the points being made.

Ask questions for clarity – Remember previous discussions on asking questions? Ask open-ended questions such as “Can you describe what I did that made you feel that way?”

Acknowledge the feedback – Paraphrase the message in your own words to let the person know you heard and understood what was said.

Acknowledge valid points – Agee with what is true. This gives credibility to your response. Agree with what is possible. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view (I understand how you might get that impression) and try to understand their reaction. You might agree that your reports are late, but you might also point out that you were told to make other work a priority and that caused the reports to be late. You brought this to your supervisor’s attention on a specific date that this might be the case and it was.

Take time to sort out what you heard – You may need time to sort out or check with others before responding to the feedback. It is reasonable to ask the person giving you the feedback to allow you time to think about what was said and how you feel about it. Make a specific appointment for getting back to him or her. Don’t use this time as an excuse to avoid the issue.

Agree on follow up timelines – if there is follow up on your part or his or her part, agree on who will do what by when and then document this after the fact. Confirm the follow up, for example, with an e-mail or in a memorandum.

This tip offers some constructive ideas when you receive a criticism.  If the other party is angry and not in control, work hard to maintain your sense of control (at least visually even if inside you heart is racing).  Work to de-escalate the situation.  In my new book Peaceful Resolutions I offer an entire chapter on the Art of De-escalation.    The bottom line is: remain in control, acknowledge what is being said and use the information from the article and this tip to turn a criticism into an opportunity.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]