One of my favourite interview techniques is to criticize something a candidate has done: their CV or their work or their responses.
I don’t do this to be a jerk, but to learn something.
It’s important to know how someone handles criticism because in this business it’s as much a part of the fabric as the colour black. We traffic in ideas and everyone has an opinion: your co-workers, the clients and the audience.
It doesn’t matter how talented you are, if you view criticism as a personal attack and go all defensive – or worse, offensive – you will exhaust your welcome very quickly.
Learning to handle criticism well just may be the greatest positive change you can make to your skills as an advertising professional.
So how do you go from feeling under siege to benefiting from the criticism?
STOP TRYING TO CONTROL
Someone has a different opinion than you and so you want to change their mind. You want to be right. You want them to see things the way you see them. STOP.
You don’t need to change their mind. You can listen, really listen, to see their point of view. Shut up your mind and your mouth. Then take some time to process it. This is not a sign of weakness but of sagacity. Wise people are always pictured as listening and nodding their heads as they do so – ever notice that?
STOP TRYING TO PLEASE
The response I most dread is the knee-jerk agreement without due consideration. Don’t back down immediately and concede to score points.
Resist the temptation to feel you must agree in order to be well-regarded. Instead listen to the point being made and think about it. I love to hear: “That’s an interesting point. I’m going to think about it.” Rather than a rushed: “Oh I only did that because…”
When you bring an idea to the table, have the guts to stand up beside it and allow scrutiny without feeling you have to rush in to resuscitate it or revise it. There will be time for that.
REMOVE YOURSELF EMOTIONALLY
Go with the critical flow. Become a leaf on their verbal stream and don’t fight it. Imagine candles and stacked rocks and bamboo mats. Whatever powerful emotions rise up in you (possibly because you hate the guts of the person who is bringing down the criticism), what’s called for is calm and equanimity. You are not the action that is being criticized. You are not the idea.
When you can control your emotional response, you open yourself up to considering the criticism. That’s where growth kicks in. Every person I’ve ever met and every idea I’ve ever come across had room for growth. Constructive criticism is what initiates that process.
When your clients and co-workers feel you can handle their opinions well, they will offer them more freely. Opinions are not always good ones, and not all have to be heeded. But if your stance is hostile to the idea of feedback, you can be sure that you’ve made it as far as you’re going to get.
Feel good about what you bring to the table and relish the process of others helping you shape that further.
And when it’s time for you to be critical of others, a little empathy goes a long way.
You can tell me you think I’m full of crap. I can handle it. I think.