Bash or Boost?
No one enjoys being criticized. But to succeed, you have to overcome all of your natural instincts and actively seek feedback—both good and bad. Here are some practical ways to toughen your hide and change your perception:
• Use the Olympic-scoring rule. Throughout your life, you'll get a wide range of commentary on how you're doing. Discard your highest and lowest ratings. Bill Gove, past president of the National Speakers Association, said: "In any audience, ignore the 10 percent who think you walk on water and the 10 percent who think you are no good at all. Then listen to the middle 80 percent."
• Separate intent from content. Any negative comments about our actions, appearance or attitudes automatically seem very personal. Yet, amazingly, the commenter may have had the best intentions. Recognize that different people have different personality styles and communication skills. They may sincerely mean to help, but deliver negative comments in a way that is hard to process and accept. On the other hand, an ill-wisher often provides valuable insights.
• Seek out criticism. Some jobs offer regular job performance evaluations where employees get feedback. If you don't have such a program, ask for personal feedback anyway, from both your manager and those you manage.
Recruit your customers as allies by asking them to be your critics. Don't be defensive. Keep your clients happy by being as eager to please them as your competitors are. In any selling situation, you're still selling after the sale. It won't be long before a rival asks them, "What do you want that your current supplier isn't providing?" Get the jump by asking the same question. Seek out the criticism before your competitor does.
"When a customer offers a criticism," advised Bob Treadway, a Denver-based speaker, "invite them to be more specific." For example, if they say, "This delivery should have come sooner," ask them in a genuinely friendly tone, "How much sooner, specifically, would you like it?" If they say, "You could have done a better follow up," say, "Tell me how exactly you'd like us to follow up in the future."
Treadway recommended asking open-ended questions that can't be answered with a "yes" or "no." For example, "How could we help you with that?" or "What improvements would you like to see?" Then summarize what they have said: "It sounds like we could do a better job if ..."
• Don't expect everyone to love you. Praise and approval are wonderful. We all thrive on them. But we all need a dose of reality now and then. Just because people notice imperfections and point them out doesn't make them your enemies. If you've armed yourself with a positive attitude toward criticism, they are going to be your best friends.
By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach, sales trainer and award-winning professional speaker on change, customer service, promoting business and communication skills. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It! and past president of the National Speakers Association. She can be reached at: email@example.com, (800) 634-3035 or www.fripp.com.