Accepting criticism is the key to the mint

Here is a reader’s response to last week’s column: Tell Me I Have Spinach in my Teeth, where I presented several scenarios and asked if you would tell the person honestly what they needed to hear.
“I think it really depends upon the person’s maturity level as to if you should say something.  I’ve said stuff to folks to try to help them and have only gotten slapped in the face.  I figure hopefully someone in upper management will get the idea to step in.  Most of the time they won’t and the person never gets ahead and never has a clue, yet is not open to criticism.  I’ve learned accepting criticism is the key to the mint.  The most valuable tool you can ever own.  If someone can’t take it, then they’ll never succeed in business or in life.  Sad, huh?”
Sad, yes. Because after years of frustration and struggle, they will never realize they had the key all along.
I love your expression, “key to the mint” because it truly is a key to a wealth of helpful information about themselves that they will never have access to. Instead of considering what someone is trying to point out, they will often blame the messenger, or discount the information as a lie, manufactured to hurt them. In other cases, they will justify their behavior, pointing to circumstances and never pointing to themselves.
So why does this happen? Well, we are human, after all…
I’m in the business of giving honest feedback. As an executive coach, I have to tell my clients things that others haven’t, or won’t tell them. Or, if they have told them, they don’t know how to help the person change their behavior. I love my work, because I know I can make a significant difference in their careers (and sometimes even their personal lives) if they are able to accept the feedback, and work with me to change the things getting in their way.
And accepting the feedback is the first step. There are plenty of reasons people don’t want to accept it. For example, they may have had a very successful career up to this point and don’t see how their behavior could be hurting them now. No one has told them the truth because they are in a position of power, or in critical technical role and people fear the consequences. They may have been told their whole lives how great they are, which gives them an inflated view of themselves. Or, they may have had a tough upbringing, which caused them to build a protective wall around their ego to survive.
Usually they give off defensive messages without even knowing it. The slightest suggestion makes them bristle, signaling to everyone, “Your feedback is not welcome here.”
Here is suggestion to help you accept messages you may not want to hear:
Stop, Drop and Roll. When you feel your defensive emotions rise to the surface, the next thing you are likely to do is justify your position. You hope that they will see the logic of your actions and agree that you did the right thing. The problem is that it usually does the opposite: it shuts down the conversation and convinces the messenger that you aren’t accepting their feedback.
Instead, force yourself to Stop, Drop, and Roll. Stop justifying and listen. Drop into a questioning mode: “When did you see me do that?” “What did I say that upset you?” “What do you think I should have done differently?” Then Roll with what they tell you. Don’t beat yourself up or beat up the messenger. Realize they are trying to help you, even if their delivery wasn’t delicate. Reexamine what you’re doing and decide if you want to adjust it.
The questions will draw out the other person and you are likely to hear more than they may have otherwise told you. I call that Sucking Out the Poison.
Suck Out the Poison.
This is particularly useful when someone is angry with you or is emotionally charged. Rather than becoming defensive, start asking questions (see Drop, above). Ask at least five questions that keep probing, until the person has told you everything they can. At that point, the poison will be all out and they will be ready to discuss it more rationally. Often, the right question will help them begin to self-explore and they will be well on the way to solving the problem without much intervention from you. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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