Not every manager is competent in providing objective and factual feedback; some may give patronizing advice or judgmental criticism instead. When confronted with the type of “feedback” that seems more like a personal attack, a few simple steps can help us stay cool, deflect any criticism and turn the discussion into a professionally constructive one.

Nobody likes to be criticized. And yet there is still a generation of managers out there that uses criticism instead of factual feedback and open dialogue as part of a misguided responsibility to develop their associates; the same generation that may also extend their criticism and unsolicited advice to peers, superiors, friend and family, often unaware of creating distance and damaging relationships.

Most of the time the criticism is well meant, but badly implemented. In a few cases it is not even well meant, but rather the reflection of a mean or revengeful attitude. (I suggest reading “The no-asshole rule” )

In any case, the person who receives the criticism or the unsolicited advice, whether they were well or ill meant, would usually find it difficult to select a wise response or course of action. What to do?

If it is my boss, do I listen, take note and agree even if I disagree at the risk of betraying myself? Or do I tell her that she is wrong at the risk of being defensive? Or do I say nothing and ignore the comment at the risk of creating distance and damaging the relationship? And so on.

If it is a colleague or a friend, do I kindly tell him to mind his own business? And if it is family, do I accept everything because that is how it is with family?

Well, there are a couple of surprisingly simple steps that can help us turn around a sticky situation that appears hopeless and turn it into a constructive opportunity for mutual acceptance and respect.

Believe me, there is always something. It can be as generic as “I see that there is something really bothering you” or “I understand that you have an interesting alternative perspective on this event” or “let me pick on this specific observation, it is quite interesting how you describe it”, etc.

The second step is to ALWAYS GIVE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. When you say something like “Help me to understand your point of view, I appreciate you are really trying to help me” you are actually deflecting the attack, whether meant or not.

The third and more important step of all is TO REALIZE THAT YOU CAN ACKNOWLEDGE THE MESSAGE WITHOUT AGREEING WITH IT. When we say “thanks for sharing your view, it is an interesting angle and I will think about it; I appreciate that you are taking an interest on me, and I am happy to share my own reflections at anther point in time”, we can overcome the moment of irritation, and make it assertively and politely clear that whatever we do with feedback, criticism or advice, is our decision.

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