I confess that I have had a love-hate relationship with feedback. In my teaching and coaching, I am passionately committed to improving and growing. And, I always want to be a good spouse, friend, and colleague as well.
Intellectually, I understand that getting feedback is an important path to improvement. But, emotionally, I have had to work very hard not to take negative feedback personally, thinking it means I am bad or a failure. Until recently, I didn’t know how to process feedback without taking it on completely.
As I’ve worked with clients over the years, I’ve discovered that many of them feel the same way.
They often believe deep down that they are their mistakes or they are the criticism they receive instead of seeing it as a small part of who they are. In response, some counter attack or deflect, while others crumble. Neither of these responses is helpful either at work or at home.
So how do we get “the good stuff” from feedback? The good news is,
that we can all learn to receive feedback more effectively and gracefully. Here are a few starting tips from my work on myself and with clients:
- Before a meeting or conversation, beam love and kindness to yourself and them. It will help you stay calm and focused, and them as well.
- Be curious yet detached. Listen to the other person simply to gather information. You want to understand what they are trying to say. Ask follow up questions to get clarity and specifics, especially if the feedback is vague or general.
- Give yourself time to sort through their comments before responding (except to thank them). You need clarity about what is yours, what is theirs, and what might be incomplete information or misunderstanding.
- Be willing to take responsibility for your part without blaming yourself or them.
- Be willing to create a plan for change, and follow through with action and communication.
- Don’t expect yourself (or them) to change instantly or completely, but do give yourself kudos every time you do things differently!
I helped a client who is a middle manager with this process recently. She had gotten some negative criticism from her supervisor about how she handled a difficult employee, and, feeling the feedback was unjustified, had reacted quite angrily. Now, she was facing another meeting with her supervisor and Human Resources, and knew she needed to somehow turn this situation around.
We did inner work first, taking a gentle look at what had triggered her explosive response and supporting the mad/scared part of her. Then, we crafted a plan for her to follow the tips above and did some rehearsal, so she could stay focused and serene in the meeting. Although the meeting was still challenging for her, she was able to listen and respond much more calmly.
Implementing this process takes willingness, practice, repetition, and support. For my clients and me, it has been worth the effort. I encourage you to get help and support to do this as well. If you do, receiving feedback will feel a lot less like walking through a minefield of emotional triggers, and, it will be a lot easier to take in new information that can help you grow and be successful.