Can we really learn to love criticism?

Written by

Stacey Harrison
Stacey’s passion is finding new ways to help businesses connect, motivate and engage their people. That’s why she also loves crafting stories that bring people together – and unleashing the power of employee storytelling.
In this era of fake news and political correctness, authenticity is more important than ever. We need to hear the good and the bad.

Criticism. It’s something many of us have a love-hate relationship with. I’m one of them. I don’t really like giving it or receiving it. But, I do know that hearing constructive feedback is one of the best ways to improve.

Renowned Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant reckons we can all learn to love criticism. In this WorkLife podcast, he explains how the world’s most successful hedge fund, Bridgewater, embraces negative feedback. Their approach: tell your co-workers what you actually think of them. They even rate the performance of their top managers in front of each other!

Can you imagine?! It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Bridgewater thinks it’s fundamental to their success.

While this sort of approach would not suit all organisations, hearing transparent feedback can be incredibly powerful – as confronting as it may be. Here’s how I learned why.  

My parents live on a dairy farm in western Victoria, so I don’t see them that often. During a visit to Melbourne last year, my dad and I were in the car, chatting about all sorts of things. The topic of conversation turned to health and dad suddenly said to me: “Now, Stacey, you wouldn’t want to get any bigger!”.  

You can imagine my reaction! A few choice words certainly came out of my mouth. Once I had calmed down – which did take a while – and allowed him to explain, I realised he had a point.

He didn’t say it to shame me for my body image; he said it for the sake of my health. I’m a type 1 diabetic. After having my kids, I put on a lot of weight. I had stopped exercising, my diet was rubbish, and I was drinking far too much alcohol! My lifestyle was not conducive to managing my diabetes well and avoiding long-term health effects. I knew that, but I didn’t want to admit it.

Dad’s words were the wake-up call I needed. I was determined to prove him wrong. And, I did. With a lot of help and perseverance, I improved my diet and started exercising … running, cycling and even swimming (which I’ve always loathed!). I lost 15kg and my diabetes is now well-controlled. I feel so much better.

When it comes to our day jobs, I think we can all get better at giving real feedback, in a respectful and constructive way. As communication professionals, we’re always advocating for openness and authenticity – it’s the golden rule of any communication. That includes criticism. How can you build trust with your team or any audience if you’re not honest? In this era of fake news and political correctness, authenticity is more important than ever. We need to hear the good and the bad.

That’s exactly what my dad did. While his words might have seemed harsh, he was just being him. One of the most endearing qualities about people who live and work on the land is their ability to tell you what they think. My dad cuts through all the BS. He calls a spade a spade. I respect him for that.

There is something to be said about always being honest no matter how hard it might be for the person to hear. After all, isn’t it always better to know where you stand – even if it means copping some unwanted criticism?

As for me, this has taught me to embrace criticism. While it can be uncomfortable, it can help us all to become better versions of ourselves.

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