Regardless of where we are in our career, we are all still learning and continuously improving.
It can be a challenge, however, when that valuable knowledge is offered to us in the form of criticism. Criticism may come from associates, peers or other organizations.
And it comes in many forms, including employee complaints, peer reviews, annual job reviews, feedback from customers or clients or rejection of proposals. It seems there is all too often that one person who tells you your project will not work or that your ideas aren’t good enough.
Criticism is a tough pill to swallow — constructive or otherwise. It’s almost impossible to not have an emotional reaction. You may discount the criticism and become defensive. After all, you’re the one with the experience who put the effort into your idea, project or organization.
However, once you’ve stripped away the emotion, there is almost always a grain of truth left. Like a grain of sand, if put to good use and given a little time, that grain can turn into a pearl — a pearl of wisdom that could be the missing link to success for your next project.
Indeed, when trying to get big projects off the ground, they very often do not go as planned. In our business working with entrepreneurs and startups, we have to write proposals and present ideas to a multitude of different types of people and organizations, whether investors, government entities or other potential partners.
I have been asked to clarify, present additional information or been rejected outright. But I’ve come to learn that these types of comments can be a tool or a ladder rung to the next level and the key to a new or better idea.
Consider criticism carefully
Allow yourself to experience the emotion you feel when you receive the criticism, but preferably in private, and talk it through with a close colleague, friend or significant other. Then turn it into constructive action. You should also take a moment to guage whether it is, in fact, criticism.
Sometimes we are so close to our own projects, it’s hard to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself if it isn’t just an inquiry to obtain more information or a request for clarification that may have come off as sounding critical.
That person could very well be on your side, but doesn’t understand or isn’t clear about what you are doing or presenting — or simply requires additional information to make a decision. Put yourself in their shoes, take the emotion out of it and help them see your vision.
Figure out what parts of the criticism can legitimately be discarded. Possibly, there are these issues that can be overcome with improved communication.
Target the nuggets of truth. Where is your weakness? What has been overlooked? Where can a more complete approach make a difference? Make an action plan to overcome these issues and communicate the changes you have made.
By viewing criticism not as a personal attack but as the discovery of valuable insight into your challenges, you can use it to strengthen your programs and deliver more meaningful solutions.
Originally published in Smart Business on February 1, 2016.