The old adage, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” is certainly not true in the business world. Women (and men too) looking to grow their careers or simply perform well at their current jobs cannot do so if they are unable to accept constructive feedback on their performance. Unfortunately, many people find constructive feedback difficult to hear, usually because there is a tendency to take it personally. The typical first reaction to constructive feedback is defensiveness; however, this reaction can be overcome. Simply taking time to let the feedback “sit” rather than responding to it immediately can help take out the sting and provide room for objectivity. Another good tactic is for recipients to balance the criticism with a conscious acknowledgment of their positive attributes and contributions.
As difficult as it might be to accept, criticism can be an excellent way to gain the self-knowledge that can lead to significant personal improvement and growth. Women should not only try to be less reactive and more responsive to constructive feedback, they should be sure to solicit it from colleagues, subordinates, and superiors. Many of the most successful women leaders do this on a regular basis. Being able to absorb constructive feedback and turn it into constructive action builds confidence.
As helpful as it is to receive feedback, not all feedback is sound. Sometimes the person delivering the feedback has ulterior motives, or his or her judgment could be in question. Therefore, women would be wise to develop a trusted set of advisors whom they can talk to about the feedback to confirm its legitimacy.
Giving constructive feedback can sometimes be another challenge for women. Some women have a tendency to smooth things over or soft-pedal criticism, particularly in serious or difficult situations, such as firing a subordinate. Feedback should be direct, but kind. Candor and honesty, tempered by thoughtfulness and sensitivity, are characteristics that define good leaders and encourage trust and respect.
It is important for women to realize that not all situations can be improved from constructive feedback. For example, there might be situations where women feel particularly vulnerable to backlash. Relying on intuition can be very useful in making a judgment call on when not to provide feedback.