A few years ago I excitedly attended an evening college course on fiction writing. Having not stepped foot on a worn checkered tiled school floor in more years than I’d like to reveal to you, I admit to being a bit nervous, yet gleefully happy. I passed corridors of youngsters that day until I finally came upon my destination. Once inside, I soon became a little more at ease when I saw a diverse group of individuals, of varying ages, filtering into the classroom. I can tell you that I learned quite a bit from this course, but one of the most unexpected lessons I learned during that four-week writing class was how to embrace criticism.
Constructive criticism is something that should never be ignored. Now this may sound like a stale request, but I urge you to look at constructive criticism with an open mind. It should not be feared or shrugged off. Nor should this type of criticism be viewed as a negative personal attack, but instead remember that you are being given this criticism to help you grow as an individual. How thoughtful is it that someone cares enough to point out areas where we can improve? Trust me, hearing that parts of my story were weak or not coming across to my audience as intended was horribly disheartening at first. But then as I stepped away from the class and refocused my misguided energy and slighted ego on the goal – to write well – I gained new insight into this personal endeavor and chose to apply it to my paying career as well.
Is criticism easy to take? No, not at all. Why? Well, it forces us to look at ourselves and our business practices in another light, from the viewpoint of an observer, imperfections and all. If, for example, someone suggests to you that perhaps you are handling an issue with a colleague or client the wrong way, instead of getting mad and dismissing their comment, try looking at your situation with a new set of eyes. Ask your friend why they feel you are handling this situation poorly? How would they suggest that you handle this incident differently? Now, that well-meaning friend may or may not be correct with their advice, but what I learned from my writing course was to look at these varying opinions and offerings of advice, and ask myself what can I do to make this piece better, stronger and convey what it is that I am really intending my story to convey. If we can examine these criticisms more closely and find areas to improve upon, then that criticism can be golden.
So how do we go about embracing criticism and applying it to our daily business practices? I would suggest the following:
· First and foremost, keep an open mind and try not to immediately go on the defense. It probably isn't easy for the person giving you the advice to point out a deficiency, but your supervisors and colleagues are there to help you improve. Listen carefully to what they are telling you. This feedback might provide you with a stepping stone towards more positive client relationships, or more successful collection results, for example.
· To use a proverb, put yourself in the other person’s shoes to examine your imperfections. Pretend you are looking into a mirror. What is your reflection revealing? What are others seeing from your actions? Are you not fully communicating to a client your company’s services? Are you coming across too brusque? Is your work area unorganized causing you to make needless mistakes?
· Use criticism as a launching point for self improvement by seeking suggestions from others. If you’re a reader, read and do research. If you like lectures, attend one. If you have a mentor or person you admire, query them.
In our careers and life in general we all fall into a comfort zone of doing things a certain way. “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it”, right? Well, yes and no. It doesn't hurt to take the advice of that colleague and mull it around a bit. Perhaps, just maybe, there is a thread of information there that you could use to improve yourself, your career and your overall well-being. Embrace criticism I say! You may not like it very much, but in time you can learn to use it to your benefit and to grow as an individual.