You did this wrong. You made a mistake here. You should have done this.
We’ve all been a part of these conversations. It is important to have errors pointed out to us, or a better way taught to us. It is equally important that we be open to constructive criticism, especially in the workplace, especially from our superiors.
So why does it often make us feel so crappy and leave us on the defensive?
Because the constructive criticism is often not all that constructive.
Rather than feeling as though we are receiving feedback and support to help us improve, we feel attacked and belittled.
How we phrase and share our ideas for improvement makes all the difference between constructive criticism and plain old criticism.
Next time you are upset with how something was completed, think to yourself how your words sound and feel. Change the way you explain that something was done wrong. Instead of directly pointing out an error, ask questions.
When my concern is, “I don’t understand why this is like this,” I typically address it this way: “I noticed yours is different, can you explain how you did yours?” Then we find a way to bring changes where they are needed.
Keep in mind that just because someone does things differently than you do doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. Taking this approach to pointing out behaviors and actions might actually lead to a change in the way you do things. You might learn something.
Improving our workplace conversations and criticisms is essential to improving our performance, both as an individual and as a team. We have to be able to give constructive criticism in a way that is, in fact, constructive, but we also have to receive criticism constructively.
Be a constructive critique-ee as well.
When we are feeling attacked and defensive, nothing constructive is going to take place. Rather, resentment and frustrations quietly brew beneath the surface.
The next time you are left feeling defensive after being told, “you did this wrong,” be sure to reimagine the conversation in a more constructive approach and then formulate your response. You can still react in a constructive manner even if the words spoken to you are not delivered constructively. We can’t change others, we can only change ourselves and the way we react to what others do.
Make it your mission to be the start of a more constructive workplace dialogue.
Kim Bowsher started her management track at the original Starbucks in Seattle. She now helps small businesses, putting to work the lessons she learned in the coffee business. She currently works with a private firm in Salt Lake City. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.