Constructive Criticism = Continuous Improvement

Much time and effort is devoted in leadership and management circles to measurement of performance and continuous improvement. Very little discussion is devoted to the actual moment of truth when the driven, typically successful PM is given some hard-to-swallow feedback…and how they decide to respond.

We could discuss terms like locus of control, ownership or even finger pointing; all are often issues from one extent to another on nearly every team. Instead, I want to try and offer some fundamental action items for accepting constructive criticism and we’ll see how you do with them (i.e. if we need to come back to some of these in greater detail later! )

1.       Mouth Shut, Ears Open: Just sit there and nod your head. When someone is opening up and providing their input to you, whether it is anonymous or not, never react, qualify, or respond immediately. Just listen and only listen. If you don’t, you won’t hear the good stuff. Or worse, you may never hear it again.

2.       Sleep on It: It is often within our nature to respond immediately and to defend our actions in the face of critical feedback. Take a moment to let the personality of the feedback filter through until it is only the content remaining. Take a moment to reflect on the validity of the feedback from a neutral perspective.

3.       Take What Works … and Leave the Rest: Just focus on some nugget of truth that you can use to achieve your goals of progress. The rest may not be valuable or it may not be valid. The important point is to focus on what can help you improve and not get distracted by what may discourage or upset you due to its invalidity or inapplicability.

The whole point here really is to achieve continuous improvement. If you believe that you can always get better, that means that you are always less than perfect; that you have faults, shortcomings, and flaws and you can and will progress in these areas. We are looking for progress from our feedback. Not perfection. Get ready to hear the tough stuff and let it sink in before attempting to act. If it is truly valuable feedback, it will likely sting to hear and take conscious effort over extended time to foster real improvement. That is the good stuff. Don’t let your mouth or ego get in the way.


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