Never in my life have I felt so sensitive about any form of criticism or feedback as I did in the first few months of being a coach. Even the (incredibly neutral) question “so, what does a coach do then?” sent me into a bit of a tailspin back then! I felt totally out of my depth both as a coach and a business-woman to the point that even the most well-intentioned inquiry felt like a tonne weight trying to squish me out of existence.
I questioned myself A LOT in those first few months. What was I doing starting a business, could I make it work, was I on the right track. I didn’t have any answers at that stage either. But with no alternative offering itself to me on a silver platter, I just plugged away. Avoiding all conversations about my work for as long as I could.
My reaction about criticism / questions / advice at that time was a lot to do with coaching being a new skill and me having taken a series of fairly risky decisions. Looking back I can see why I reacted as I did. When things are new and vulnerable they need protecting, wrapping in cotton wool, and loving deeply. My recoil was understandable. But it didn’t necessarily serve me. What I mean is if I’d opened myself up and listened to what others had to say I could have learnt deeper and quicker.
What about you?
Do you find receiving criticism difficult? When people give you advice does it drive you bonkers? Do you wish you could deal with feedback more effectively? Hopefully, the following 101 will give you all you need to make criticism and feedback work for you:
- A question isn’t automatically criticism. The questions other people ask you aren’t automatically criticism. When you’re talking to someone about something you’ve created, written, organised, designed…and they have a question about how it works or why it’s got a yellow knob, it’s good to bear in mind that this is your thing. You’ve loved it into existence and seen it grow daily. You know exactly why that yellow knob sits there and them asking questions isn’t the same as them saying “that’s crap”. It’s just a question.
- Take note of where you are with the thing being critiqued. Take note of how you’re feeling about the job / product / service / person that’s being fedback about. What I mean is, if you’re in a super sensitive place with it (as I was) and the thing feels mega vulnerable, chances are any outside information is going to be hard to receive. Likewise, if you know you could have done a better job you might be feeling defensive. Just sayin’.
- Feedback isn’t right or wrong. We all see the world in a different way based on how we’ve been raised, the experiences we’ve had, our values, the friends we surround ourselves with etc. And because of these different world-views we have different expectations and ideas too. Communicating your experience of something, i.e. giving feedback, is just that. A reflection of you and your experience. It’s not right, or wrong. It just is. Which is exactly why you don’t need to defend, justify or explain yourself to your critic. Absorb the information they’re giving you if it’s useful, and let the rest go.
- Can this feedback make x better? So some of the information you get in your feedback is interesting. Perhaps you know the answer, perhaps you don’t. Maybe it informs you that something about the way you work or what you do isn’t clear. Maybe, just maybe this feedback can form the basis of an evolution in the way you work or what you do. It could make you and what you offer stronger. It might highlight blind spots that you didn’t know about, or weaknesses you hadn’t clocked. Sounds invaluable to me.
- You have a choice to listen to criticism. Choose to listen to those who have good intentions. People love giving their opinions. It makes us feel important. But ultimately, it’s up to you who you decide to listen to. For your own sanity – be selective. Ask yourself if the person criticising you has good intentions. if not – don’t be brought down by someone who doesn’t care and just wants to be heard whatever the cost.
- Advice is a reflection of someone else’s values. Slightly different from a critique, but advice sometimes feels equally as unhelpful. It’s good to remember that whenever someone tells you “if I were you” it’s exactly that what they would do. Based on their life, what they’re willing to risk, and what they value. If it’s useful…grrreeeeaaaatttttt. But don’t let someone else’s fears hold you back from setting the world on fire.
- Maybe criticism is a sign of meaning. So you were criticised, you got feedback, someone told you not to do it, or you’d be crazy. People stared. It’s because you took a risk, you did something extraordinary, you were bold, courageous, fantastic. My advice is go out there and be criticised. It’s a sure fire way to know you’ve broken the rules and you’re living life your way. After all, who wants to be vanilla?
Over to you.
I’d love to know how you deal with criticism + feedback. What’s your technique for making it work for you? And how do you manage when people endlessly want to give you advice?
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