Getting Criticized: How To Make It Work For You

 “They have a right to censure that have a heart to help.” – William Penn (Some Fruits of Solitude, 1693)

You know when it’s coming. Your boss or colleague sits you down and says, “You know how much I admire you, but …” or “Please don’t think of this as a criticism, but …”That’s how my dinner with BS and BK began this evening. Despite all my feigned self-confidence, I had to brace myself to listen.

For 10 minutes (which seemed like an hour), I listened as BS made two personal observations. One was a criticism about something I considered a virtue. The other was a suggestion for how to run better meetings.

My first reaction was defensive. (“He doesn’t understand because he can’t see the big picture.”) But experience told me to shut up and keep listening.

And so I did. And as I listened, it began to occur to me that, although his perspective wasn’t perfect, his comments were important. He was talking about two real problems for which I was at least partly responsible. These were problems that needed to be fixed.

When he stopped talking, I thanked him, acknowledged the problems, accepted my share of the blame, and promised to do something about them.

Yes, I did squeeze in a sentence or two of self-justification — but mostly I took it standing and responded like a soldier.

And my reward? Satisfaction and hope.

Dinner is over, and I’m back at my computer — feeling good and optimistic about the future. I can see that two of my well-intentioned efforts have been having less-than-intended results, and I’ve got a plan to fix that.

Have you been criticized lately? If not, why not? Come on. Really.

Here’s a suggestion: Ask your boss or a respected colleague for a criticism. Make sure he addresses something significant. Go out to lunch with him. Don’t interrupt. Thank him and make yourself a promise to deal with it.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what I learned from my conversation with BS and BK — and give you suggestions for avoiding problems like these in your business life.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]