Criticism isn’t always constructive, and it can often be a form of bullying. However, it can also be also be meant as a gift from someone who has our best interests at heart. A new study shows that men and women deal with the emotional fallout associated with receiving feedback or criticism differently. A group of researchers led by Margarita Mayo, a professor of leadership at IE Business School in Madrid, found that women are far more sensitive to peer feedback than men are. The study, published in the Harvard Business Review, examined Mayo’s assumption that receiving feedback involves some emotional fallout that may block the very same learning processes they are intended to boost. Researchers looked at how MBA students react to feedback they received about their leadership competence from their peers.
The results show that students’ views of their own leadership skills went down after receiving feedback, and continued to drop in response to more feedback. This effect was stronger for women. Researchers found that women more quickly aligned their self-awareness with peer feedback, whereas men continued to rationalize and inflate their self-image over time, concluding that women were more sensitive to peer feedback than men. In fact, after six months, women perfectly aligned their views of leadership with their peers’ assessment, whereas men continued to inflate their leadership qualities.
Lisa Blackwell, author of Are You a Mule or a Queen writes in Huffington Post that in the past, women have battled to gain respect in society, and had to fight for a place at the table. Based on this history of working against obstacles, many women feel that any type of questioning or corrective advice is an attack.
In the workplace and often in the community at large, constructive (or sometimes not so constructive) criticism is also going to come your way. Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message, writes that, “If a woman wants to do substantive work of any kind, she’s going to be criticized—with comments, not just about her work, but also about herself. She must develop a way of experiencing criticism that allows her to persevere in the face of it.”
It’s a given that feedback and criticism are going to happen, so how do we change the way we respond to it?
My Leading Women co-author Kristin Andress writes that the way that we see things is what makes the difference. We can choose to turn the trials and tribulations we experience into triumphs simply by changing our viewpoint and giving our thoughts over to a new perspective. Following Kristin’s lead, perhaps looking closely at the intention of the person providing the feedback can help us better do this. Rather than taking each word as a personal attack, Kristin asserts that we look at each encounter as a way to create an opportunity for peaceful, satisfying, and fulfilling relationships instead.
“Sometimes a change of perspective and realizing the power of your perceptions starts simply with a conscious thought can change everything,” Kristin says. “This shift can help us realize that we need not all be exactly the same. In fact, our differences can escalate our innovations, our accomplishments, and our contribution to solving bigger issues than we can by ourselves.”
The next time someone gives you feedback or constructive criticism, remind yourself of the potential benefits: perhaps it will help improve your skills, work product, or relationships. Then express your appreciation. Doing so doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts. Then evaluate it and if necessary, shift the way you look at it and see if it will help you grow or move closer to your goals in any way. As women, when we can learn how to build one another up and become comfortable with the process of giving and taking feedback, we will stop disrespecting ourselves and others and build the positive sisterhood that will help us all achieve the success we all deserve.