Are you great at receiving “constructive” criticism? Yeah, I thought so too. After all, I get paid to be a precise communicator as speaker, consultant and coach. Unfortunately, as I would soon learn, I needed a second opinion.
A quick poll of my business colleagues and family yielded the general consensus: “You are not terrible at receiving criticism, but you often have a comeback, explanation or a rebuttal. Especially, if you disagree with the feedback given you. You are smart, but you can be defensive.” To that, I responded: “Yes, but what if the feedback isn’t remotely accurate?” “Bingo, there you go!” was their quick return. Touche!
What about you? Chances are, you are not as good at receiving criticism as you think either. Most of us are not- even those, ironically, with advanced degrees in communication-related fields.
Can you radically improve in a short amount of time. Yes!
Marshall Goldsmith, noted business coach, offers a transformative response to criticism you can put to immediate use. It is simple to execute but it will mean holding your tongue and treating all feedback you receive, one-on-one, similarly-something that is emotionally challenging to do, especially if you are used to being right or having the answers! But, if you learn to faithfully apply Goldsmith’s technique, it will change your business and personal life as it has mine. Why is it so powerful? Because some of the most valuable feedback we will ever need to hear will, sadly, remain unsaid. Others will quietly determine it is not worth the cost of offering it to us.
Goldsmith’s technique is challenging to use consistently but is straightforward. In response to any feedback or criticism you receive simply respond:
“Thank you for pointing that out. I will give what you said careful consideration.”
The irony, of course, is that if you are like me you have already formulated your own rebuttal to the above technique. Surely there are important exceptions, right?
What if the person is…
Has mixed motives at best?
Downright evil? Fill in the blank….
The magic of Goldsmith’s response is IT DOESN’T MATTER if any or all of the above are true!
Whether your critic is constructive or destructive, friend or foe, crazy or insightful, you will always win with this response and on several levels:
First, those who seek to hurt you will be provided no “fuel” whatsoever to continue their assault. You have said you will consider it privately and you will (for less than a nanosecond) but you are instantly done with the present discussion. (Note: This will go a long way over the holidays with your crazy uncle!)
Second and most important, no one who has career-enhancing, or life-changing feedback for you will ever hesitate to provide it to you out of fear of your reaction. Even if we are extremely polite in our response, we can still leave others feeling sorry they offered us their perspective. And, if you manage a team, you will be perceived as infinitely more approachable and a far better listener. Also answer to a manager of your own? You will be perceived as highly coachable.
I dare you to try it! You will slip in the beginning, defending yourself, challenging inaccuracies, responding strongly to jerks, but once you experience for yourself the upside of this new way of responding to all one-on-one criticism, you will be sold too.
The Fine Print:
If you do choose to respond to all criticism, good, bad or insane with:
“Thank you for pointing that out. I will give what you said careful consideration,” there is a important caveat–you have to “sell it!” In other words, absolutely no sarcasm is allowed in your delivery. For many of us, this will be the hardest part and for some criticism a response from you worthy of an Academy Award. Do it anyway and it will quickly get fun, trust me!
Six Months of Road Testing
I have been personally road testing this technique for the past six months. I confess that when I first read it, I thought Goldsmith’s strategy was passive and obsequious. Now I think otherwise. I have learned much about my own style, behavior and blind spots I would not have learned of otherwise too. People are shocked and delighted that I no longer challenge them in the moment or make them back up every comment they make with statistics.
Additionally, my wife and I have been using the technique to hilarious and useful ends. In fact, we have shortened Goldsmith’s more formal phase to simply:
“Thank you, babe, I receive that!”
Over the past few months, we have learned to bit our tongue when the other has pointed out a shortcoming, or broken a sacrosanct house rule- “The silver trays go in the upper left cabinet, etc.” And it has brought us closer-always a great thing. We are still working on the sarcasm part, though.