05/12/2011 01:07 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Women: Do You Have Trouble Accepting Constructive Criticism?

We all have areas in which we need to improve, and one way to help identify these areas is receiving feedback, or constructive criticism from others. In my career coaching women, I have quickly learned that if I want my input to be received by these women, I have to put a lot of careful thought into how I deliver my constructive criticism.

I recently provided feedback to two friends, male and female. I noticed that my male friend had mail piling up on his countertop, making his kitchen look chaotic and sloppy. I suggested that he sort out the junk mail from the regular mail as soon as he came in from the mailbox and then put the junk mail in the trash. Next, he should put the important mail in a box under the counter until Saturday, when he would have the time to read the mail and write out his bills. I told him that doing this would improve the cluttered appearance of his counter over time. My friend appreciated my advice, thanking me profusely for helping him improve his life.

On a separate occasion, my female friend complained that she didn't have enough time to exercise or complete graduate school applications. I advised her that since she spends quite a bit of time talking on the phone to me and other friends, if she were to add up the hours she talked on the phone for a week and then redirect the time the following week, she may find the time to devote to activities she felt she was neglecting. However, my friend got defensive, saying that she really didn't spend that much time on the phone and brushed off my suggestion, claiming that she didn't have enough time in general. I hesitated to advise her after that, believing that she wouldn't listen.

In the past, women have battled to gain respect in society. They often 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. This defensiveness based on insecurity can cause a woman to conclude from a small failure that she is inadequate as a whole, eliciting an emotional reaction that often makes sincere people hesitate from advising her.

So how do you know if you are a woman who accepts constructive criticism and truly considers information that is shared? Answer the following six questions to assess how receptive you are to well-intentioned advice:

  1. When a person offers feedback, do you automatically start defending yourself instead of listening and asking for clarification?
  2. Do you mentally start listing the flaws of the person offering the criticism?
  3. Do you quickly think of ways to cut the conversation short or make an excuse to disengage?
  4. Do you carry a grudge against the person after receiving the criticism?
  5. Do you suspect that the person feels you have more faults to correct than what they have mentioned?
  6. Do you dread receiving feedback from women as opposed to men?

If you answered "yes" to three or more of the questions listed above, you may be a woman who has trouble accepting feedback. So what can you do about it? Try the following exercise:

  1. Ask family and friends whose judgment you trust to give you one or two suggestions on how you can improve yourself. Caution: Do not perform this exercise with people you know to be negative or extremely critical.
  2. Take notes of their suggestions to review later in private.
  3. When in private, write down how you felt while hearing each suggestion. Pay attention to any negative feelings you felt. Did you feel defensive because you didn't respect a person's opinion on the topic? Did the suggestions trigger feelings of inadequacy you have felt in the past?
  4. Next, make a plan to implement actions to address the suggestions you received if they are realistic, favorable and doable.
  5. Then follow up with each person after you have implemented their advice, and express your gratitude for their honesty.

Repeat this process every couple of months until you no longer feel dread when asking for feedback.

For those providing feedback, people generally only accept constructive criticism from people they respect. If someone repeatedly balks when you give helpful advice, it may be because they do not respect you or your opinion, and this presents a different problem altogether.