Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Constructive Criticism

It is often difficult to take criticism, even when it is constructive, but if you are not prepared to be open minded I suggest you hesitate before asking a friend for advice. A true friend will give you an honest response and it might not be what you want to hear. However, if you genuinely want to improve, whether it is for your personal growth, personal happiness or professional advancement, it would be a good idea to take a deep breath and listen objectively.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

When I first came to the US I was an emotional wreck - for reasons I won't go into here but are detailed in my book. Needless to say, alone in a strange country after all of that, I was very lonely and ready to start a new life. I quickly made friends but there was no one special in my life and that bothered me. Then a very good friend told me that I needed to learn to love myself and be happy in my own company before I could possibly expect the same from someone else. Very sound advice which I had the good sense to take and not be offended.

Not only did I learn to enjoy being alone, to enjoy my own company, I also learned that constructive criticism is a true gift and it should be accepted gracefully as such, even if it is not welcome nor pleasant to hear. It is also not easy to give, bearing in mind the uncertain nature of the response. (I did eventually find my soul mate, after I stopped "shopping for groceries while hungry").

Now, many years later, every mentoring session I have at work, I have to remind myself of how valuable that advice was and how my life changed as a result. Plus, I had applied to our mentoring program in order to benefit from the experience of my mentor who I might add, is not only extremely knowledgeable but also very willing and able to share that knowledge. But I still find it difficult to expose myself, to actually invite criticism. I have to remember my own advice applies here too - do not enter in to a mentoring program if you are not prepared to listen to constructive criticism and more importantly, learn from it.

Having found myself a first class mentor, now I have got to remember that lesson I learned such a
long time ago, and on top of that I have to figure out how to actually use a mentor. After our first session I felt a bit like a dog chasing cars and finally catching one - now what?

I guess part of the process of having a mentor is learning how best to utilize such a valuable asset - and of course, making positive use of the feedback; a.k.a constructive criticism. To this end I did quite a bit of research. I found this article particularly useful. It lists six steps for "Taking constructive criticism like a champ" under the following headings:
  • Stop Your First Reaction
  • Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback
  • Listen for Understanding
  • Say Thank You
  • Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
  • Request Time to Follow Up
And, if it is still necessary, here is an article from The Guardian, listing six reasons why criticism is a good thing.
  • Criticism is a form of communication
  • Feedback helps make your product stronger 
  • It forces you the think about how you work
  • The right kind of criticism can give you an advantage
  • Use positive language, elicit a solution
  • Don't take it personally
All very good advice for accepting the feedback you need, and will get, from a mentor. However, you will only get the help you ask for therefore, in order to be sure that you steer the mentorship in the right direction, be sure that you have a clear idea of what you want. This article gives some very good tips.
  • Regularly schedule meetings with your mentor and make it part of your standard workflow
  • Go into your conversation with some ideas you'd like to discuss, but don't be afraid to stray off course
  • The best mentor relationships are reciprocal

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