Criticism does not mean you suck.

As a boss one of the things I actually hate most is having to give someone feedback on their work. Well let me explain. When their work is awesome … it’s great … I get to big them up and make them feel like a giant. But when things aren’t up to scratch, no matter how well intentioned my feedback is, I know there is a good chance I am going to make the person receiving the feedback feel a little bit sh*t.

But the thing is … what is the alternative? Never say anything for fear of hurting feelings? That sounds like a terrible idea too.

So first things first … I want to consider feedback vs criticism.

Scenario 1: I sit down with Johnny to offer some feedback and tell him what a good job he has been doing. I love his recent report and it’s clear he’s been putting the hours in. I offer some suggestions on how he could be doing better. He leaves the meeting feeling wonderful, and is grateful for my feedback.

Scenario 2: I sit down with Penny to offer some feedback and tell her that although I know she is capable of much more, her work isn’t her normal standard. I want to understand if there is anything I could be doing better to support her but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hear any of my good intention. She leaves the meeting gutted because she thinks she’s shit and I’m horribly critical of her work. It’s not true.

In both cases, I merely wanted to offer feedback but Penny definitely felt I was criticising her work. Perhaps I need to work on how I deliver the feedback … but if you ignore me for a moment … what if you reframe that criticism, step away from your ego and look at things a bit differently.

Consider the following …

1 // 99.9% of the time I want to help you be better (or I know you can do better)

Think about it … at the end of the day it is almost always in your boss’ interest for you to be the best you can be. It will either reflect on them well, or help their business succeed or generally make life at work better. In fact, I can’t think of a single situation where I would want someone reporting to me to fail … so understand that the feedback is coming from a good place.

2 // I want to share my wisdom and experience with you.

I’m older than you (we’re not going to talk about how much older). And over the years I have learned stuff. It gives me joy sharing the things I have learned and passing that wisdom on … so not only do I not expect you to have all the answers, I actually find it nice when you want to learn from my experience.

3 // I have a new idea that’s building on what you have already done.

Sometimes I don’t love your work … but it sparks an idea and lets me take things to the next level. This is popularly known as collaboration. Where we work together to get to the end goal. When it comes to marketing … I find it about a thousand times easier to edit someone else’s work than starting from a blank canvas. So even though you might feel like I have torn things to shreds, the reality is you have helped me immensely.

4 // I have a bigger picture that you might not be aware of.

Very rarely do we get to work in a bubble. More often than not, we have many different things impacting the environment we operate in and it’s simply not possible to communicate all the things all the time. So sometimes you are working on assumptions that may not be full or complete … and this only comes to light down the line. Frustrating … yes. But not my fault … or yours. It’s just the reality of a world which is moving super fast. Catch up, sync up and keep moving.

5 // I might simply have a difference of opinion.

Ahhhh number 5. I kept the best till last. Sometimes my opinion on something might be different to yours … and perks of being the boss … I’m simply allowed to call trumps. Rest assured the food chain doesn’t end with me. I have a co-founder and we often have differences of opinions. We have clients and sometimes their opinions trump ours. Your bosses will have bosses and so it goes on.

So that’s all good and well … but regardless how you reframe things in your head, sometimes this supposed feedback still feels like criticism. So how are you meant to handle it at the time? Here’s my top tips:

  • In the first instance, stop the evil voices in your head that are tearing you down and telling you they suck.
  • Be honest with yourself. Were the comments justified?
  • Don’t be defensive. It will shut the whole process down. Stay open and … listen to the feedback being given to you. Hear the actual words being said – not what you think is being said.
  • If it is merely just a difference of opinion, work out in your head if it’s better to just let it slide or whether this is one you want to battle (you don’t have to fight all the battles)
  • Ask why questions. Why did you do it that way? What were you trying to achieve with your changes? How would you expect that to differ the outcomes? Lots of open ended questions to help you build a solid understanding.
  • Offer to have another attempt. Sometimes time is not on your side and this may not be possible – but it’s a great way to learn.
  • Take time to digest and reflect. Remember someone has taken the time to give you feedback – you can choose to learn from it or you can choose to ignore it. My tip? Learn from it, grow and … be better next time. 🙂