Few of us, however, are enthusiastic about the feedback that’s laced with negative as well as positive tones – what’s known as constructive criticism. That kind of feedback is harder to swallow, yet without it, few of us could improve or get to the next step. Harder still, is making the choice to actively seek it out. Who wants to know what others perceive them to be lacking in? Even the most open-minded of us would be tempted to put up our defensive shields.
But it’s your general attitude about how you frame these kinds of interactions – from putting yourself out there to be ‘criticized’ and ultimately, to whether you implement the changes suggested by others -is what determines how expansively you navigate your career trajectory.
I was lucky to witness this type of attitude in action last month at a professional development workshop run by the New York Chapter of the Association for Talent Development. The workshop was designed to help attendees develop an effective elevator pitch. There was an audience of roughly 25 at various stages of their careers. Some were contemplating new opportunities in the near future and wanted to sharpen their ability to convey ‘who they are’ in a networking setting.
One woman in particular stood out. She travelled from Boston for the night to attend the workshop. Everybody else was local.
We broke out into small groups to write out our story. Then, a couple of volunteers were asked to present in front of a larger group. The Boston woman stood up. She worked in a large IT department in a role that interfaced between developers and the company’s end users. When she got up to speak, it became clear why she was seeking feedback. IT lingo permeated her story. She couldn’t translate what she did into layman’s language. When she finished the look around the room was one of confusion.
She wanted to gear her message to the general public. At prior networking functions, she explained, she tried to communicate what she offered with too much granularity, ultimately losing her audience.
Collectively, the group offered suggestions on how to simplify her message. A couple of other people got up to share their pitch, but the majority preferred to stay silent. Then, the woman from Boston raised her hand. She wanted to go again. She incorporated the feedback that we had given her and wanted to practice her new story.
When she finished, the group applauded. I suspect the applause was for her determination and open-mindedness, as much as for her new and improved product.
As a sole practitioner, I now recognize just how important and beneficial this type of feedback can be. Not having to submit my work for review to anyone, I now miss the lessons imbedded in that kind of an exchange. It wasn’t always fun to hear, but it was necessary for my growth. Witnessing another individual embracing constructive criticism with such aplomb was inspiring.
It’s made me honestly ask myself, “How do you take feedback?”
I won’t lie – I would prefer mine sweetened. But, every so often, I will endeavor to take it black to give me that extra strong boost.