Criticism can be one of the most difficult aspects of any leadership position. Far too often, leaders let their pride and ego affect the way they serve their people or their organizations. Some may take criticism too personally. Instead of taking a minute to assess this feedback or stepping back to see the bigger picture, they react defensively.
So, how can we be less defensive when we lead? What makes a leader in the face of criticism?
Don’t Assume What Other People Think of You
Some of us can be quick to make assumptions about the people we work with and their actions, or how these people perceive us and our work. “Why don’t they like me?” “Why don’t they agree with me?” “What are they asking of me?” But this may not even be the case.
Making negative assumptions can hurt not only your performance as a leader, but also your relationship with your colleagues. Instead of letting these negative assumptions occupy your headspace – ask. Open yourself up to other people and their input, rather than letting your biases fester in the echo chamber of your head. It helps, as well, to remind yourself: “It’s not always about me.”
Get to Know the People Around You
Instead of fixating on your colleagues’ perception of yourself and your work, ask them about themselves. Get to know them, their background, how they like to work, and what they like and don’t like about the work. You can even ask them why they entered this particular line of work. Build a connection from the ground up.
If you get to know them as a person, you’ll have a better sense of who they are and where they’re coming from. It may even answer some of your nagging questions: “Why don’t they like me?” It possible that they DON’T dislike you, and you may be projecting your own insecurity. “Why don’t they agree with me?” Well, it may be a simple case of miscommunication.
Keep a line of connection open between them and yourself to prevent misunderstanding. Remember that, as their leader, it’s your job to understand and respond to the needs and expectations of the people who work for you. This means getting to know them as people, and being open to their input.
Don’t Take it Personally and React Impulsively
When you do receive negative feedback, your first instinct may be to reject it. We all tend to be defensive when faced with criticism. However, the moment you take it personally, the more difficult it will be to do your job.
Letting negative feedback get to you will affect your decision-making capabilities. Acting on it impulsively can further undermine your leadership. Whether you’re making excuses or lashing out, reacting impulsively can damage your reputation. Leaders set the tone and moral character of a group, workplace, or organization. Leaders are supposed to be tough but resilient, able to adapt to stress.
As a leader, you should learn how to listen and be patient. It’s important that you make your colleagues feel heard and understood. Take a moment to assess the situation before you respond. If you can, remove and distance yourself from the immediate situation. Take some time to process. It may help to speak to your peers and fellow professionals. You can even talk to friends and family. You can seek out their advice, or simply ask them to listen and be there for you as you tell them what you’re dealing with. You can even take a short break from work altogether. Find an enriching or calming activity to refresh, refocus, and recalibrate yourself with before going back to work.
Once you’ve taken a step back, reassess your situation objectively. Take a look at the feedback you’ve received as an opportunity for growth. By listening carefully to criticism without being offended, you’ll be able to see the situation from a wider perspective, learn from past mistakes, and build a culture of trust in the workplace.
Even as a leader, you can’t always control the challenges that come your way. However, you can control how you react to difficulty. Your ability to learn and recover from these challenges determines how effective you can be, and how you can set a standard for people to aspire to, and forge a path that those around you can follow.