Learning from feedback and ‘criticism’

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” ― Leo Tolstoy

I am not perfect, say it to yourself for a moment. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be.

The scary thing for many of us, including me sometimes, is that we are not the epitome of perfection. The guy down the hall is probably better than us at something, and perhaps we are better than him at something else.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali

As I said in a previous post, Reflect, don’t deflect, the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that there is one. But sometimes, we fail to see our own limitations. When I say sometimes, I really mean quite often. So, that is where others come in to assist.

Except that, we often do not want to hear a bar of it. When we receive feedback, it is easy to become defensive and fail to recognise an actual need for behavioural change.

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” ― Daniel Kahneman

Quite fittingly, I recently went to one of my frequently visited quaint cafes, and observed exactly that. I was sitting down, and found myself witnessing some harsh words of criticism from the chef to their waiter. She had taken a meal to the wrong table and returned again. The chef had put it down to talking to much to the kitchen hand when picking up the meal off the serving bench.

After this ordeal, the waiter’s face reddened slightly and I could tell that her reaction was more than embarrassment. It was probably frustration, perhaps even a little anger. I doubt she was angry at herself, but rather at the chef for singling her incorrect behaviour.

In this circumstance, it is so easy to deflect and instead of accepting blame: deflecting it to someone else. This does not solve the problem, and from what I continued to see, it created new issues with this waiter.

She came to our table, took our coffee order, and returned with an iced mocha for my friend instead of the iced coffee she requested. The difference was that it had chocolate powder and syrup in it as well as the coffee. I recognised quickly her disappointment when my friend acknowledged the mistake. She offered to make it again, apologising profusely.

Her cheeks reddened a little, but I thought this might be a good time to put my own words into action. I took the iced mocha and stated I did not mind, giving my friend the iced coffee in front of me.

She smiled, recognising that I had saved her a second verbal lashing from the chef, and thanked me. I then turned and told her something like:

“We all make mistakes, I remember working in the same job as you once. The best we can do is acknowledge our own internal weaknesses and devise strategies to overcome them.”

Her smile increased a little, recognising I wasn’t judging her, but rather that I was exposing a similar circumstance I was in, and that making a mistake is not the end of the world.

I did not see any more issues from her in the hour I was there, and her normally bubbly personality returned.

What I learnt from this experience was that it is hard to accept what we think is ‘criticism’, but it is not as hard to accept comments we feel are ‘feedback’.

As leaders we have to acknowledge the difference, and try to ensure we provide feedback and not criticism.

As human beings we have to acknowledge that we are not perfect, and we have behaviours we can improve in. Choosing to accept when others alert us of our limitations is the first step to higher degrees of self-awareness, and being a better person.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” ― Ken Blanchard

So next time someone criticises your behaviour, choose diligently to willingly receive it. Reflect on it, find out how we can overcome it, and then actively work to correct it over time.

When we can all accept feedback, and equally give it in a respectful manner – like I did, not like how the chef did – then we will be better for it.

*Image by Zoetnet.

7 thoughts on “Learning from feedback and ‘criticism’

  1. Great points here! Criticism is hard to take, and usually our first reaction is to get angry at the person who criticized us, rather than use the it constructively.

  2. My boss is reluctant to share any criticism towards me. I`m an intern and would really like to know where are my weaknesses. Sometimes people won`t tell you and sometimes they exaggerate 🙂

  3. I see all too often people telling others about their shortcomings and trying to pass it off as constructive criticism, and not knowing that there are ways you give it out and ways you don’t. You handled that so well, and I bet you made her day a little better.

  4. I think you did a fantastic thing for that server that day. Your words clearly turned around the rest of her shift and probably set the tone for the rest of her day. Wonderful read and excellent points!

  5. Great insight. I usually learn much more from criticism than compliments. I like to think of them as learning tools. Thanks for sharing. 😀

Comments are closed.