Career and Enterprising

A psychologist reveals 4 key ways you can use to embrace critical feedback

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Critical feedback can be daunting for some. Since we’re talking about criticisms here, it’s easy to get defensive over it. But take a more profound examination, and you will probably agree that constructive feedback is the ‘true friend’ that identifies the gaps between who you are and the improved version of who you want to be.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist, author, and entrepreneur, points this out as a paradox. He shares that most people are happy to receive positive feedback, but it is the negative ones that enable us to be better.

This is because if you think you are already on the right path, then there would be a lesser desire to brush up on your current skills. To avoid potential conflicts, some companies have even attempted to remove negative feedback from performance reviews.

So the question is, do you want an upgrade? Or are you happy with where you are right now with all the compliments flooding your way? If it’s the former, we’re so glad for your willingness to change.

We’re not going to promise that you will leave this article feeling like you’re ready for a self-improvement journey. Criticisms hurt and we’re not going to lie. But it’s something to embrace if you want to tackle your weaknesses and bridge the gaps.

Want to walk out of your self-protective instincts now? Take it from Dr Tomas on the four key ways you can use to embrace critical feedback.

#1: Search for a right mentor
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Don’t be alarmed by the word ‘mentor’. Dr Tomas points out that the right person should be someone with experience in the area you’re keen to make a change in. He or she could be someone who knows you well, has seen your growth, or aware of the skillsets or talents you want to build.

In our current prosocial society, it’s getting difficult to find someone willing to provide critical feedback. “For all the talk of authenticity, if you go about telling everyone what you really think, you will have no friends and your colleagues will hate you,” said Dr Tomas.

That’s like hitting the bull’s eye, isn’t it? What you need is someone who is fearlessly psyched to tell you what you need to hear. Note the difference between what you want to hear and what you need to hear.

#2: Find proper questions to ask
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Finding the right mentor to receive feedback is already not a simple task. If you want to make it easier for your mentor to give you an appropriate assessment, ask pertinent questions.

Avoid asking short questions like these:

  • “How did I do?”
  • “Was this okay?”
  • “Did I do a good job?”
  • “Did you like what I did?”

Instead, ask:

  • “What would you have done differently?”
  • “What are the two things that they didn’t like so much?”
  • “If you can change one thing about X going forward, what would that be?”

Also, mean what you say. If you’ve made known that you wouldn’t take it to heart, then don’t take it personally. Value their honest response and see it as a way to help you get better, even if you don’t immediately agree due to a defensive stance.

Dr Tomas states that the right mentors should help improve your ability to identify blind spots and critical areas for improvement. As a mentee, always be thankful.

“Feedback is always a gift, and there is no bigger gift than constructive critical feedback because it is daunting and risky to provide it. There is a higher cost to honest negative feedback than fake positive feedback, but the former makes you much better than the latter,” he adds.

#3: Receive comments and act on it
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Have you ever advised upon a request only to find out that the other party has turned a deaf ear? If you understand how frustrating it feels, don’t do the same to your mentor. 

Receive critical feedback and reciprocate the time and effort spent by committing to change. Then, share your action plans with your mentor to involve them in the process. Knowing that you’re taking their constructive comments seriously is also a form of motivation for your mentors to provide you with more guidance going forward.

“When someone asks you for help, and you offer your honest views, even though you know it may hurt them, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing them make a positive change based on what they heard. Making others better is a wonderful achievement,” Dr Tomas remarked.

#4: Get more feedback to monitor progress

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If you’ve followed through the strategies so far and managed to gain and act on the criticisms given to you, don’t just stop there. Politely ask your mentors for more valuable critiques so you can track your progress.

To put it simply, Dr Tomas says the process should look like this:

  • Get critical feedback
  • Make an effort to change
  • Get more feedback to monitor progress

He also illustrates this strategy using a weighing scale. When you think you’ve put on weight recently thanks to the work-from-home routine, you put yourself up on a weighing scale. Seeing the figures got you motivated on losing weight, so you change up your diet or start exercising more often.

But do you stop there? No. To measure your success, you go up on the scale again to track your weight. The idea here is that you don’t just repeat the process once or twice, but as often as you can to monitor your development.

In conclusion, be aware that even the most talented people are a work in progress. Yes, criticisms are painful; nonetheless, it is also a positive force for change and the fuel to be better. Those who are seeking growth should learn to welcome useful negative feedback with open arms.

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