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16 Tips to Survive Brutal Criticism (and Ask for More)

16 Tips to Survive Brutal Criticism (and Ask for More)
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    “You suck.”

    Everyone encounters criticism, whether it is a boss pointing out falling performance, a bad review for your book, or even self-criticism after an embarrassing slip-up. Your ability to digest that criticism and make use of it says a lot about your character. Even better is to be the kind of person who can take a sharp, verbal critique, stand up and ask for more.

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    People are Too Nice

    Most people won’t tell you what they think of you. And if they do want to slide you some honesty, it is usually wrapped in a sugar coating. Why then, with our compulsion to smooth the truth, does it hurt to be on the back end of an honest opinion?

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    I believe it is because most of us have shied away from getting honesty our whole lives. As a result, we haven’t trained the ability to recognize that a criticism of our behaviors, results or efforts isn’t a criticism of ourselves. Once you train yourself to notice the separation, you can start using any criticism thrown your way and actively seek more of it.

    Honesty is a Good Thing, Here’s How to Survive It

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    Here are some tips for surviving the floods of good intentions that might crash upon your ego:

    1. Balance Yourself – The salience effect is a cognitive bias where we tend to focus on the most recent or memorable piece of information, ignoring the collective. Whenever you get a piece of criticism, you need to balance it by recognizing that this is just one tiny critique out of all feedback. Don’t exaggerate it’s impact on who you are.
    2. Get Them to Focus on Behavior – If you are in the middle of an evaluation, try directing the person onto your specific behaviors, not you. Tell them you are interested in hearing their suggestions and ask for positive ideas for improving your methods.
    3. There is No Absolute Feedback – Part of the sting comes from converting feedback, which is entirely relative, into absolutes. If someone told a stand-up comedian he wasn’t funny after a show, that would probably mean he wasn’t as funny as other comedians that person likes. It doesn’t mean he is objectively, the most unfunny person who ever existed.
    4. It’s Opinion, Not Fact – The only benefit of feedback is if it illuminates weaknesses or strengths you suspected but hadn’t realized. You always have the option to disagree with criticism.
    5. Don’t Ask for Honesty When You Want Support – Don’t ask people for honest feedback if you plan to tune out anything but praise. Notice your internal state when you want feedback. Do you want help or validation? Get clear, otherwise you might get an unexpected critique.
    6. Flip it to Positive – Guide the person towards making suggestions for improvement rather than pointing out flaws. It’s easier to hear: “You should try slowing when you deliver a speech,” rather than, “I couldn’t understand anything you said!”
    7. Don’t Argue – I once saw on a famous speaker’s blog comments a verbal insult from someone. The speaker responded by continuing the attack and redirecting it at his assailant. I felt this showed a lack of maturity by bringing himself down to the level of the man who insulted him. You’ll look more secure and confident if you can redirect and brush aside criticism than if you engage in an argument.
    8. Train Your Ego – My suggestion is to actively run towards as much harsh criticism as you can. It will desensitize you to the bite of one particular comment and give you the ability to see yourself more fairly.

    Now that you have some pain-killers for the attack, here’s how to ask for more:

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    1. Say Thanks – Some companies pay consultants millions of dollars to come by and show them how they are doing a bad job. At least some people will do it for free. Thank them so you don’t have to pay heavy consultant bills later.
    2. Honesty Policy – Develop a policy for honesty where you encourage people who give you honest feedback. I’ve wrote about this topic several times on my blog, and I’ve gotten many suggestions from readers who prefaced their ideas with, “I’m saying this because I know you won’t take it personally.” How many ideas would I have lost if I hadn’t created an honesty policy?
    3. Don’t Justify – In the face of criticism, you might feel the urge to explain or justify yourself. My advice is to avoid it unless it is specifically asked from you. The reason is that justification not only admits your insecurity, but it makes the other person think you aren’t listening.
    4. Experiment with Embarrassment – If you aren’t making a fool of yourself routinely, you probably aren’t being ambitious enough. Take criticism as a sign that you are experimenting regularly.
    5. Give People the Sugar – Give people the sugar-coating, so they can give the honest suggestions. Frame questions so they can deliver feedback in a non-offensive manner. “What could I have most improved?” “If you had to say something, what did you like least?”
    6. Be Positive – If someone criticizes, translate them into positive suggestions and discuss it with them. The translation informs the person that you have a thick-skin and are using the advice.
    7. “Thanks, I’ll think about that.” – Five words to end the conversation and give yourself time to process any particularly crushing information. This keeps you from starting an argument with a person which can only defeat an honesty policy.
    8. “I Understand, But Disagree.” – Those four words are your only comeback. I’ve had people tell me I should stop writing, speaking or change something I felt strongly about. Calmly stating those four words shows the person that it isn’t a topic of discussion, but shows everyone else that you are open to all suggestions.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

    15 Ways to Cultivate Lifelong Learning for a Sharper Brain How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now 18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick 18 Tips for Killer Presentations 7 Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

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    Last Updated on March 14, 2019

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

    Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

    For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

    Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

    1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

    A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

    It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

    It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

    How it helps you:

    If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

    Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

    2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

    Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

    Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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    How it helps you:

    Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

    Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

    If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

    Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

    3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

    Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

    Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

    How it helps you:

    This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

    For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

    Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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    A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

    4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

    To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

    A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

    How it helps you:

    One word: hierarchy.

    All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

    In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

    If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

    5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

    Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

    Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

    How it helps you:

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    Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

    If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

    This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

    6. What do you like about working here?

    This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

    Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

    How it helps you:

    You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

    Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

    Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

    7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

    What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

    As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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    How it helps you:

    What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

    First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

    Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

    Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

    Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

    Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

    Making Your Interview Work for You

    Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

    Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

    More Resources About Job Interviews

    Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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