Receiving criticism about your work performance can be tough, especially when it is badly delivered. But being open to feedback is one of the most important factors for building a successful career. After all, this is what keeps us growing.
During my 10-year tenure on Wall Street, all of my bosses were either men or white, and many times they were white men. I was often the only Latina that ever worked for them, and I could tell giving me feedback made them nervous. It was likely they didn’t want to say something offensive, but it was important for my career growth to receive feedback.
I had bosses who delivered criticism in a way that was constructive and actionable as well as others who had not yet mastered the art. For the latter, the comments tended to be discouraging and not very helpful for making improvements. For instance, one of my bosses once told me, “Your laughter is too loud.” I wanted to be offended. The trading floor was loud. How could my laugh be louder?
While that criticism wasn’t constructive or helpful, there are times when the things our bosses have to say, even if their delivery is off, can be valuable. These three strategies helped me create an environment where my bosses gave me constructive and actionable feedback.
Listen. Don’t Get Defensive. When my boss gave me feedback I didn’t particularly agree with, it was very tempting to want to interrupt. “But that happened because…,” I’d want to say. I wasn’t trying to be defensive, but it was easy to come off that way if I wasn’t willing to listen. I learned to make mental notes and wait until the end to ask questions instead of simply disagreeing or giving excuses. For example, if the feedback was too broad, like “be more proactive,” I would ask for specific examples of when I could have been more proactive.
Take Action. Feedback is meant to help us improve, and that only happens if we turn it into action. Given that I asked for specific examples, I knew exactly where I needed to improve. Next time that situation came up, I was ready to take action.
Ask for More Feedback. Once you’ve started taking action to address the feedback you’ve received, check in with your boss. Give your boss specific examples of the actions you have taken to improve, and ask them if you are on the right track.
Every three to four months, I would ask my boss if I was making the types of improvements she wanted to see. I was happy to hear on one of those occasions, “You are so great at taking action on my feedback!”