How Should Smart Leaders Handle Surprise Criticism?
We’ve all experienced times when things slowly fall into place and everything seems to be going well. What a fantastic feeling… finally we have everything working like clockwork or a well oiled machine. No problems, no complaints, squeaks or even little noises. This is every Smart Leader’s dream. Total serenity (an Australian joke related to the movie “The Castle”).
Suddenly though, someone wants to talk to you. You find yourself sitting in a glass conference room and listening to “constructive feedback”. You think to yourself… what happened to “serenity”? What went wrong? How come suddenly everything you do seems to be inadequate? What about the good things you did? If you don’t have good a coping mechanism you can feel emotionally overpowered.
How would a Smart Leader handle surprise criticism?
Peter Bregman in his HBR article gives us a few ideas:
- Look beyond your feelings. Recognize them — label them even — and then put them aside so the noise doesn’t crowd out your hearing.
- Look beyond their delivery. Feedback is hard to give, avoid confusing the package with the message.
- Don’t agree or disagree. Just collect the data. Criticism is useful information about how someone else perceives you. Ask questions to further explore what you’re being told.
- Later, with some distance, decide what you want to do. Think about what you heard — what the data is telling you — and make choices about if, what, and how, you want to change.
Part of being a Smart Leader is not to reject feedback, rather treat it as a tool or a gift. It is really rare that others tell us things how things are. You may also talk to people you trust to see what is their opinion. Consider both opinions and use them wisely.
What are your suggestions for handling surprise criticism? Do you have role model? What works for you?