How to deal with tough feedback
This guide covers dealing with negative feedback that comes your way in terms of its emotional impact, how to respond to it and how to potentially act on it. Feedback received, whether it be from work or at home are just as important and high stakes as one another, because emotions and well-being are involved, often of both parties.
What do we mean by ‘feedback’?
First up, when I say ‘feedback’, I’m talking about something that someone says to or about you that relates to something they’ve experienced in the way that you’ve behaved – something you may have said or done. When people ask…‘Can I just talk about something that happened in that meeting?’ or ‘I’d like to talk about something that’s not quite sitting right with me…’ or the more obvious, ‘Can I give you some feedback…?’, you know that they’re likely to be about to offer you an observation about something you’ve said or done that has had an impact on them.
“You should always receive negative feedback seriously, but never personally”
How to prepare to receive feedback
Most humans, when faced with a sentence like ‘Can I give you some feedback…’ or ‘I’m not very happy about something I’d like to talk to you about…’ will perceive what’s about to arrive as a threat, and that’s likely to trigger an automatic defensive response of fight or flight or freeze.
This is a totally understandable and natural response so don’t worry if it happens to you. However, going into an automatic survival mode probably won’t make you as receptive as you might be to hearing the feedback and asking questions, so give yourself the best chance of being prepared to hear the feedback, which will usually involve creating the right space and the right environment to be ready to listen and to allow the other person to be heard.
Understand what you’re hearing
Negative feedback can feel like you have been misunderstood or that your interpretation of events is very different from someone else’s. And that’s all ok. The purpose is to get value from the feedback being offered and not for you to satisfy your ego.
It is important to really understand what the feedback means for the other person. And that might mean respectfully asking for examples or to clarify where there’s a difference of view. While the survive/defend/justify part of you might be screaming ‘But I also need to say my part! This isn’t fair! I want to be understood! When do I get to speak my truth!’, now is not the time. Get straight what they mean first and show that you’ve understood by clarifying until you arrive at the same place.
Take your time and sit with the feedback
We tend not to get enough feedback in general, so ask for it. Warts and all, the smooth and the crunchy. Be prepared that some people won’t enjoy giving tough feedback and some won’t ever do it, it’s important to respect that. But some people in your world (often those with a Courage strength I’ve found) WILL be prepared to give you supportive and challenging feedback and that will always be invaluable to keep you humble, learning and evolving. This helps to cultivate a growth mindset.
When processing your feedback remember emotions are information, not a call to action. You can choose to not do anything with the feedback, it is fine to decide to not do anything with it, other than to hear it and to show that you’ve heard it. It is possible that two alternative ‘truths’ or interpretations of an event can co-exist and that’s ok.
You should always receive negative feedback seriously, but never personally. When someone is giving you feedback, it’s rare that it will be a personal attack on you. And if it is, that’s not really feedback, something else is likely to be going on with the other person relating to their agenda only and it may need a different approach.