Whether it's on the fly or in the course of a performance review, many of us will no doubt find ourselves on the receiving end of constructive criticism throughout our careers. It's how we deal with that feedback that sets the stage for success versus failure. With that in mind, here's how you ought to respond when constructive criticism comes your way -- especially if you want to look professional in the process.
1. Breathe before you speak
It's never easy to take criticism, even if that feedback is designed to be productive in nature. That's why it pays to take a few deep breaths before responding to your manager. In fact, you might even come out and say something like, "This is a lot of information to take in, and I have questions. Do you mind if I sit here and process things for a minute or two?" This will buy you a little time to compose yourself, even if you have to sit in awkward silence for a few seconds.
2. Ask questions -- but not defensively
The purpose of constructive criticism isn't to knock your performance but to give you actionable items to improve upon. So if you need further clarification or advice on how to overcome your faults, don't hesitate to request additional information or more concrete advice. That said, be sure to keep your language and tone inquisitive, not defensive.
Here's an example: Perhaps your boss sat you down and informed you that you need to do a better job of handling pressure under fire. Your natural response might go something like, "Well, how do you suppose I accomplish that?" But replying in a snarky manner isn't going to help you, so rather than go that route, try asking, "What specific suggestions do you have for situations where I'm given multiple projects with very close deadlines?" A follow-up like this shows that you're really just looking for information rather than pushing back.
3. Request a follow-up discussion
It's not always easy to gather your thoughts on the spot when presented with constructive criticism, nor will you necessarily arrive at every question you have within the 10-minute period following that feedback. Before your meeting with your manager comes to a close, ask for a second sit-down a few days later to address any follow-up questions that come to mind. This will give you an opportunity to better benefit from that criticism, and it'll show your boss that you're taking it seriously.
4. Express your gratitude
Difficult as it may be, it's a wise idea to thank your manager for providing you with feedback -- even if it's not all rosy. Remember, your boss is probably busy, yet has taken the time to offer up criticism designed to ultimately make you better at what you do. Rather than resent that, try to be appreciative -- and show that appreciation with some kind parting words.
5. Learn from it
The point of constructive criticism is to give you an opportunity to improve upon your weaknesses and progress your career. So once you've received that feedback, take it to heart and make a list of all the ways you're going to incorporate it in the future.
For example, say your boss points out your tendency to rush through projects and produce documents with errors. Going forward, you might pledge to create a daily or weekly work schedule so that you're not as pressed for time and therefore less likely to make mistakes. You might also pledge to leave yourself ample time for proofreading or enlist the help of different colleagues to provide that service for you. The point is to identify concrete ways to make changes and commit to them so that your performance improves over time.
Constructive criticism isn't necessarily a bad thing, so don't turn it into one. Rather, take it for what it is -- an honest assessment of your performance and an opportunity to do even better.