Many people get defensive and stressed when receiving negative feedback or criticism. Sometimes after receiving that feedback, the personal relationship deteriorates, there might be a counter-attack and escalation of the situation even if the other person had all the best intentions. While working in a team it is crucial to be aware of and develop an ability to receive feedback and criticism.
Why did I choose this tool?
As trainers and youth workers, we work with a wide variety of people, who do not necessarily know how to give feedback or constructive criticism. This tool will help you to understand that we, as the side that receives feedback or criticism, have a specific role to learn how to keep the quality of the relationship with the people we work with and to know how to react in certain situations.
Many years ago, I was working with a new team where I didn’t really know my colleagues. It was a challenging 3 days training course in a bank, of the sales employees. We had a really intense workshop that we were doing for the first time. During the course, some of the participants got really upset with us as a trainer’s team and they have challenged our know-how, methods and the overall authority.
While I was doing damage control and assessing the situation, the fellow trainer approached me, to give me feedback “on the go”. Even though the colleague tried to be constructive in the feedback, I felt that I was criticized in front of the other people, it sounded complicated and took me off guard, assigning the blame to me while I was preoccupied dealing with other things. I felt angry and attacked, so I fired back with a similar kind of criticism. This was a trigger for the fellow colleague to respond back, and the situation escalated.
In order to have a successful cooperation in the team, it is important to develop the ability to give and receive criticism. It is always tempting to make excuses whenever we receive criticism, but if you spend all your time explaining yourself, you won’t have time to really hear what the person who’s giving criticism is trying to say. A person will learn more from receiving criticism if he or she develops these habits for receiving criticism:
- Become a careful listener- Whenever receiving criticism, it is important to concentrate on what the person who is giving criticism is saying. We shouldn’t try to generate responses while the person is still talking, but rather just listen. We will have plenty of time to present our own observations later, when he or she is done talking.
- Be aware of your emotions – you might be feeling annoyed or angry even before receiving the criticism, so those emotions might be mistaken or misinterpreted as emotions that come out of receiving the feedback.
- Keep all criticism in perspective- it is fairly easy to overreact to the criticism. It is important to remember to keep all criticism in perspective and to use criticism as a guide to determine if you should repeat or change certain actions, not as something to get stuck on or get upset about.
- Try to learn from all criticism, even criticism that is presented poorly—criticism is sometimes given poorly, even in the most well – Intentioned organizations. In situations like this, if you stay calm, you can still get useful information that can help you in your future actions.
Guidelines that can help you in receiving criticism effectively are:
- Being ready for the criticism- being ready to hear what the other person has to stay, being open-minded and not denying or making excuses for what you hear. Some people, although they hear it loud and clear, instantly reject to take criticism for several reasons: the person giving the feedback might be much less experienced, or has an unimportant role in the team or the organization.
- Choose where and when do you receive the feedback – not all situations are good for receiving feedback. If you are busy, tired, under stress, upset, sad, or even super happy, it is not the right time to receive criticism. You should explain the reason why, and ask the other side for another suitable time. Also, you should choose the place where to receive the criticism – normally somewhere private, where you can carefully listen, where you won’t feel influenced by external factors such as extreme cold or hot temperature, time pressure, hunger, or other physiological needs.
- Staying calm and cordial- approach with confidence every situation in which you are being criticized, by knowing that the information you receive will help you improve your performance and move closer to your goals. Being upset or angry will prevent you from understanding and talking about the open issues, and might also affect the person who is giving the criticism.
- Not being afraid to ask questions- ask questions in order to get more details and make sure you understand them, because the more details you get, the more benefit you will have from that criticism session. You can ask for different points of view, opinions and examples from different people, in order to better understand the criticism.
- Reflect on the criticism – often people decide on the criticism momentarily. Whatever you decide, either you accept, reject or ignore the criticism, in the end, it is welcomed to give it some time and to reflect on the things that were said or done. Look at it from a different perspective or talk with your close ones about it. It will help you understand the different perspectives of criticism.
Main steps in receiving criticism effectively are:
- Ask for as much detailed information as possible
- Paraphrase what you think you’ve heard
- Seek suggestions for future actions
- Thank the person giving you criticism
You can find a detailed explanation of these steps in the 5th chapter of the book “The art of giving and receiving feedback” written by Portner and Massetti Miller.
Before we either give or receive criticism, it’s important to know our own style of communication and the style of communication of our team member who is giving/receiving the criticism.
According to communicationstyles.org , there are 4 main communication styles and each style has its own key characteristics. You can check all styles and characteristics on the chart underneath.
On the website communicationstyles.org you can find more information about the communication styles and how to identify them. You can use this information, not just while giving and receiving criticism, but also in everyday communication inside your team.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
Being able to receive feedback and criticism in the context of a team of trainers or youth workers will have implications on the atmosphere in the team and the quality of the work. Being able to give and receive constructive feedback and criticism would mean that your team would focus on improved performance implementing the given feedback, rather than losing the energy of playing ping-pong with arguments and subsequently escalation of the disagreement. The good atmosphere in the team comes from good communication skills and fewer conflicts. Knowing how to receive criticism or feedback is a skill that everyone should have.
Many times the learners or participants are phrasing their criticism towards the trainer during a workshop or a course in front of everyone. They get emotionally involved or do it poorly. The trainer should envision a situation like that and try to de-escalate, redirect, or postpone the situation at least temporarily, until they are prepared to listen and receive the feedback or criticism. The trainers should actively educate the learners on what is the appropriate way of phrasing and giving criticism as well. The framework presented before gives a simple structure that everyone could focus on.
Exercises / how to apply it in everyday life
- Practice each of the guidelines in the next 30 days—Figure out your emotions when someone gives you criticism. Choose your place and time when to receive a feedback, or ask for examples and other questions while being calm.
- Ask some of your friends or your teammates to criticize you or give you negative feedback while you are stressed, you are out on a really cold weather or while it’s raining, or when you are super hungry. Try your best to stay calm and control your emotions, and reflect later on what kind of impact did the external factors have on you.
- Write down on a piece of paper which external factors influence you the most when receiving criticism or feedback?
- Sit with your team and create your own guidelines on how to receive feedback.
- Do the individual exercises with your team.
- List the challenging situations where you have received inappropriate criticism or feedback and discuss how you could have reacted more appropriately?
- How can you support each other as trainers team, when some of you are receiving criticism?
- How did you react during the last time that you received criticism? Were you upset or angry? Why did you feel that way?
- Which are the most common mistakes that you do when you receive feedback?
- Reflect with your team, if knowing to receive feedback and criticism can influence your team dynamics? How?
- Talk with your tram which areas each of you individually need to improve in terms of receiving feedback?