Constructive Feedback: The Art of Growing Through Attentive Listening

Thriving startup journeys unfold by embracing constructive feedback, nurturing growth through attentive and receptive listening


Chris Kernaghan

An image of a young woman, surrounded by other young folk in an education setting or a work setting

I'll be the first to admit that, certainly as a child, I took issue with criticism.

Lacking the capacity to understand that the criticism was coming from a place of kindness, often from teachers or parents, I often dismissed it as grown-ups just being a bit hurtful. How wrong I was.

As I've grown older, my understanding of constructive criticism changed.

Having been in business for over 10 years, I'd be more worried about not facing constructive criticism from clients and colleagues. Unlike my early years in which I'd shy away from potentially being hurt, I now see it as a growth opportunity.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you, perhaps you've always accepted criticism. Maybe you're not sure what good criticism is, or whether you should dismiss it entirely because of where that criticism has come from.

Fundamentally, you should always at least listen to criticism even if you have no intention of engaging on it. Here's why.

What is Constructive Criticism?

If you're a founder, especially an early stage founder, you're going to get a lot of feedback. Disproportionally so because as someone new to the market, you're going to run into feedback whether you ask for it or not. Feedback encompasses not only the viewpoints of mentors, investors, and customers but also the invaluable insights shared among founders and team members.

The startup community is effectively one massive melting pot of competing ideas.

For some, this may sound incredibly frightening, but by changing your mindset - this is an opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally.

But here's the kicker: Not all feedback will be constructive. In order to grow, it's important to quickly establish what constructive criticism is.

When feedback is constructive, this type of feedback zeroes in on precise, doable suggestions for enhancing your work, with the intention of aiding improvement rather than causing harm. It offers clear, actionable steps for addressing errors or issues, ensuring effective adjustments and avoiding vague advice that might hinder progress.

Sounds simple, right? Sure, but be weary of feedback that isn't constructive!

How can I Avoid Criticism That Isn't Constructive?

Feedback that lacks constructiveness tends to be unhelpful, leaving you unsure of how to actually improve. Here's what such feedback can look like and how to steer clear of it:

  • Vague Statements: Non-specific comments like "It's not good enough" or "I don't like it" offer no insight into what needs enhancement.
  • Personal Attacks: If the feedback attacks you as a person rather than focusing on your work, it's not productive or constructive.
  • No Actionable Suggestions: When the feedback doesn't provide actionable steps or suggestions, it becomes hard to translate into actual improvements.
  • Subjective Opinions: If the feedback is purely based on someone's personal preferences rather than objective criteria, it might not be valuable for growth.

To avoid unhelpful feedback, encourage those providing input to be specific about what they feel needs improvement, focus on the work rather than making it personal, offer actionable suggestions, and base their feedback on objective criteria rather than personal preferences. This approach ensures that feedback is not only valuable but also conducive to genuine progress.

How Should I Deal With Constructive Criticism?

Now that we know how to deal with criticism that isn't worth your time, here's how to make the most of criticism that will help you grow.

Let's dive into how you can navigate this as a startup founder:

  • Stay Cool: Yep, it's okay to feel a bit defensive at first, but as someone building an MVP and chasing that elusive product-market fit, keeping your cool is key.
  • Ears Wide Open: In the land of startups, understanding your users is golden. So, when someone's giving feedback, put on your "talking to customers" hat and listen closely.
  • Feedback = Fuel: Instead of brushing off comments, think of them as fuel for your startup engine. It's all about improving that MVP and giving your users what they need.
  • High-Five, Thanks: Whether you're a one-person show or rocking a small team, thanking someone for their input, even if you don't fully agree, shows that you're open to growing.
  • Clarify and Connect: Got feedback that's like a puzzle piece you can't figure out? Reach out and ask questions. Just like chatting with customers, it's about connecting to understand better.
  • Next Steps Together: If you're in the early stages of your startup journey, like hustling for product-market fit, propose a follow-up. It's a chance to show you're not just brushing it off.

Mistakes as Opportunities

The notion of a growth mindset becomes a guiding principle that can make all the difference. The crux of this mindset lies in its profound redefinition of how we perceive mistakes. Instead of viewing missteps as a confirmation of inadequacy, a growth mindset frames them as invaluable chances for learning and enhancement.

As a founder, every decision you make, every strategy you implement, is a step on your business's journey. With a growth mindset at the helm, each of these steps, even the ones that veer off-course, contributes to your growth story.

These missteps cease to be ominous indicators of your limitations; rather, they morph into valuable signposts on the path to success. You recognise that setbacks aren't dead ends; they're opportunities to recalibrate, pivot, and emerge even stronger.

In this context, mistakes are like puzzle pieces that eventually form a coherent picture of progress. A growth mindset grants you the gift of resilience – the ability to dust yourself off after a setback and say, "Alright, what can I learn from this?" With each challenge that comes your way, you welcome it as a potential source of insight and a chance to fine-tune your strategies.

This mindset nurtures adaptability, propelling you forward with a sense of purpose and a belief that growth is a continuous journey fuelled by the lessons learned from errors.

About The Author

An image of a young woman, surrounded by other young folk in an education setting or a work setting
Chris Kernaghan

By day, Chris works as a UX Designer, crafting easy-to-use interfaces and ensuring companies focus on what users need. At night, he runs We Are Founders, a platform where founders share inspirational journeys.


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