Of all the life lessons, this will probably be one of the most difficult ones for you to implement. Why? Because, like all of us, you have a natural bias/instinct for self-preservation. Whenever someone critiques you (a teacher/parent/friend/boss/coach/rival/enemy, etc.), you’ll probably see it as an “attack” on you. And the natural thing to do when you feel “attacked” is to defend yourself.
Unfortunately, that natural instinct is the absolute worst thing you can do if you want to become successful. By definition, no one gets better by continuing to do what they’ve always done because whenever you keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting what you’ve already got.
To get a different/better result, you have to do something differently—and the critique of others is one of the primary ways for that to occur. It’s one of the “secrets” of success that most people run from, but successful people embrace because highly successful people know that feedback is the breakfast of champions.
I. There’s No Need to Fear Feedback
Most people fear feedback, but there’s no reason to for you to fear it. For example,
If you’re a student and you’re afraid of a test (or writing a paper), there’s no reason to be afraid of your teacher’s red pen. Either you know the material or your don’t. If you don’t, why fear the test? The critique your teacher is going to give you will simply inform you that you need to study harder (or study differently or study different material, etc.). Your teacher is informing you of something so that you can be better prepared the next time. Why be afraid of that?
If your parent or spouse or good friend comes along and gives you a critique about something you’ve said or done in a relationship mishap, why be afraid of that? They’re giving you feedback that might help you become a better person.
If you’re giving a speech/talk and other people are giving you feedback (both positive and critical), why be afraid of that? They’re helping you see things you might not have seen on your own so that next time you’ll be better.
The only reason for someone to fear feedback is if they’re afraid of reality (a bad idea). If your boss evaluates you on a scale of 1-5(high) and you receive a two on teamwork, that’s a gift, not a curse. He/she is telling you that you’re not doing as well as you think you are and you need to make some changes in how you work. Apart from that grade of a two, you might not change.
So don’t fear critique. It’s a gift to help you become better.
II. Get Your Ego Out of It
This is the key to welcoming critique/feedback. If you were to ever ask me to review a document or paper, for you you’d probably see a lot of red on it (and if you’d like to know why, you can read a blog post on my main site about an encounter I had with Carl F.H. Henry, one of the great theologians of the 20th century and the editor of Christianity Today for decades).
When one of my clients (or family members) gets one of those papers back, their first emotional response is almost always one of shock. There’s red all over it. Words are crossed off. Punctuation is added. Questions are off to the side. Arrows rearrange paragraphs and ideas. Alternative words are suggested. Etc. It’s not very pretty (and, by the way, I do the same thing with my own writing).
Some people just can’t handle that. In fact, I had one attorney say to me, years ago, “I felt like I was back in fifth grade when I got that back from you. No one talks to me like that anymore.” He then promptly didn’t talk to me for years. Note: He never once addressed the substantive comments I made on something he asked for feedback on, he just didn’t like being critiqued (i.e. his ego got in the way). His loss.
On the other hand, most people, once they get past their initial ego shock realize that all of the editorial changes I’ve suggested are actually in their own best interest (i.e. I only give feedback to help people be better. I have never ever intentionally given anyone feedback to make them worse or to make them feel worse).
The amazing thing is that once you get your ego out of the way, you then discover you have an amazing capacity to listen and to consider that the feedback someone is giving you is actually for your benefit.
III. Remember that Listening and Agreeing are Two Different Things
If you’re sitting there thinking, “But what if their feedback isn’t right? What if they don’t have all the information? What if their feedback is malicious in intent (meaning, they want you to feel bad or they want to give you the wrong information)?”, then you need to remember this truth that listening and agreeing are two different things.
Just because someone (including me) gives you advice, doesn’t mean it’s correct or that you have to take it and act on it. No one on planet earth is omniscient (meaning, knows everything). Moreover, you have ultimate responsibility for your life. So, you don’t have to agree with every critique or edit or idea or evaluation etc.
But, if you want to be successful, you have to learn to LISTEN to every piece of advice without being defensive. Listen first, evaluate second.
Back in my pastoral days I would often have people come and ask for a “meeting” because they were upset with something in the church (i.e. put a couple thousand people together and you’re going to find a lot of different ideas about how church should be done). In each case, I’d ask for their feedback. I’d take notes. I’d then reflect back what they told me to make sure I heard them. And I’d conclude by asking them questions like, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” and “Finally, is there anything you’re trying to communicate to me that you feel like I haven’t heard?” And they’d all say, “No.”
Then a few weeks later, I’d occasionally hear through the grapevine that “Bruce didn’t listen to us,” (which wasn’t true at all). I listened to every comment they made. I took notes. I reflected back. I checked for clarification. But, in their minds, they thought that listening meant agreement–and that’s not correct. I listened and then evaluated which comments were accurate and needed to be acted on and which didn’t. Listening and agreement are not the same thing.
The same goes for you. Listen to everyone. Then evaluate what they’ve told you and determine what is accurate and what isn’t. What you need to listen to and change and what you need to disregard and let go of. Just make sure your ego isn’t in the way.
IV. Invite Critique
If you really want to be successful, and you own what I’ve said above, then you’ll want to go the next step and cultivate the habit of actually inviting critique into your life. This is why great athletes and business leaders get coaches. They know they need people outside of them to help them see things that they can’t see on their own and to push them to do things that they wouldn’t normally do on their own.
You can do the same thing
- When you get a paper back from a teacher, ask him/her for more feedback so you can be better the next time
- When you give a talk and someone says, “Great job!” ask them. “Thanks, I appreciate that. But if there’s one thing you think I could have done better, what would that one thing have been?”
- When you’re at work, don’t be like most employees who never ask for feedback. Be the one who asks regularly. “What do you think I should be working on to improve my performance?” “How am I doing?” “What do you think is holding me back from being more successful around here?”
- When you’re on a date with your spouse ask how you’re doing. Take the relational risk. “What would you like to see me work on so we’d have a stronger marriage?”
The only way to get better is to do something differently–and that quite frequently requires critique from someone else. So, don’t be afraid of critique. It’s a gift. Embrace it, invite it and welcome it into your life. Most people won’t do this (their loss). But if you want to be a top performer, if you want to be great at something, then you need to invite critique into your life (not push it away) because it’s a necessary gift.
As Solomon said years ago (and this is one of my all-time favorite proverbs)
“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Proverbs 9:7-9
In other words, you have the choice to either be a fool or a wise person. If you want to be a fool, don’t listen to critique. But if you want to be wise, listen, evaluate, make the appropriate changes, and see the critique for what it is, a gift to make you wiser, better and more successful.
To your accelerated success!
Flickr image by cogdog