oSECTION A: INTRODUCTION
Not too many people can listen none defensively, or none antagonistically, to criticism. And very few of those who listen admit it when they see that they are wrong. The thing is, we think that admission of guilt, or of being wrong, or that we have made a mistake, is a sign of weakness. Yet true failure is repeatedly refusing to see your faults.
Learning to listen to criticism is a life skill that we'd all do well to master. It is about keeping our hearts open (deferring judgment), and ensuring that we are not emotionally aroused (intimidated, irritated, etc.) by our critic (this is deferring reaction). Learning to listen to criticism is about carefully absorbing what is being said, and then honestly evaluating if it is fair, true, constructive or destructive. Only after we've carefully listened to and evaluated the criticism can we respond to it.
SECTION B: HOW TO TAKE CRITICISM
1). See criticism as an opportunity to work together with the critic to solve the problem; not as an adversarial situation. Even if you can't solve the problem together with the critic, consider the moment they criticize you as an opportunity for all of you to grow from whatever the problem is. See it as an opportunity for straightening things out; as an opportunity to hear them out, question them where you need clarity; and as an opportunity for you to clarify what needs to be clarified. This calls for changing your mindset; for changing your attitude (from an adversarial one to a positive one) towards criticism.
2). View criticism as valuable information about how to do better, not as a personal attack. Criticism, regardless of whether it is used as a constructive or a destructive tool, can provide us with valuable feedback on our performance. It provides us with feedback on where we've fallen short, and that (i.e., knowing what we need to improve on) is important for our learning and growth.
So even when your critic uses criticism as a destructive tool (e.g., as a personal attack, or as a way to put you down, or as a way to manipulate you, or as a way to maintain a psychological advantage), identify his intention but decide to pay particular attention to the criticism itself. Evaluate the criticism itself, and identify what feedback you may get from it. To be able to evaluate the criticism, you must ...
3). Listen carefully to what is being said. This is taking up all the data, and evaluating it to see if it has any validity.
4). Watch the impulse to defend (See Defense Mechanisms): Just listen and evaluate. Know the difference between emotional thinking and rational thinking; use your head, not your heart. Don't give in to your emotions (be it laughter, anger, fear, or whatever): simply listen!
5). And if the criticism is too upsetting, ask to resume the meeting later; after a period to absorb the difficult message, and cool down a bit.
SECTION C: HOW TO GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
1). BE POLITE AND SENSITIVE. This is a call for empathy; for being attuned to the impact of what you say, and how you say it to the person on the receiving end. The person (on the receiving end) is most likely to be defensive. S/he may resort to loud and angry words, or may even cry. Be ready for whatever reaction (including rebuffs, or attacks to hurt you back; breaking down into tears; begging you for forgiveness and sympathy; and so on. There is a whole catalog of reactions to criticism: be ready for any of them, and maintain your calm).
2). BE SPECIFIC. Don't criticize the whole person (by using global labels or sweeping generalizations). It is demoralizing for people to know that there is something wrong without knowing what the specifics are, so that they can change. Focus on the specifics; saying what the person did well, what was done poorly, and how the situation could be changed. The following approach is very effective (I call it the VWXYZ-approach):
V - Tell the...