How to take the fear out of feedback

| November 7, 2014
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Eh, feedback. Like death and taxes, other people’s opinions of what we do are a fact of life. Whether on the job or in the thick of wedding planning, people who care for us will sometimes offer hard-to-hear truths about our behavior. And that can trigger a flood of fear and negative emotion that blots out the positive opportunities that the feedback offers. Consider that:

Feedback is a chance to gather perspective other than your own on how you’re doing.

Feedback is a chance to course-correct before it’s too late.

Feedback is a chance to plan to succeed.

It’s not something you want to miss out on, but many of us usually do in one of three ways.

The Bristler: Feedback is a personal attack on your character. You reject criticism automatically, reacting with anger, defensiveness, or blame. You miss out because…

  • You avoid holding yourself accountable for mistakes, and so you don’t learn from them.
  • You lash out at the folks who dare to offer criticism, alienating them and damaging relationships.

The Wallower: Feedback destroys your faith in yourself. You crumble in the face of it — responding with tears, apologies, and/or hasty promises to make amends. You can’t hear any praise because all you can see is how you’ve failed. You miss out because…

  • You’re too caught up in self-blame to engage with the feedback in a critical way, not receiving crucial information that could help you improve.
  • Your emotional reaction shows others that you’re too fragile to handle criticism. People learn to not count on you when things are tough.

The Stonewaller: Feedback is just a sign that you’ve been misunderstood. You shut down, simply waiting out the conversation instead of participating and asking questions. You miss out because…

  • You’re so busy protecting your ego that you can’t see how it may be blocking you from identifying areas for growth.
  • You dismiss outside perspectives, showing others that their opinions don’t matter. This leaves you isolated.

How to engage with feedback
You don’t have to love feedback, but it doesn’t have to be a one-way ticket to misery either. Inside every observation is a golden nugget, an action to take that pushes you closer to success. Think about it this way: Someone has taken the time to think about how you could do things better, and then taken the time to tell you. It’s for you, about you, and intended to help you.

When you accept that there’s something to learn in almost any piece of feedback (even if it stings at first) your feedback conversation becomes infinitely more valuable. And it is a conversation in which you:

  • Ask clarifying questions to better understand the feedback and how to apply it.
  • Show people their opinions matter and foster closeness by hearing them out.

Your response is where the magic happens, so get really clear on what went wrong and how to improve. If your tendency is to act as a Bristler or Wallower, try not to react on impulse (anger or tears). Instead, take notes or record the conversation so you can mine it for those golden nuggets after cooling down.

Here are seven questions that can help you get to the heart of your feedback:

  1. What are the opportunities in the criticism?
  2. What affirmations or appreciations were shared?
  3. What actions were suggested?
  4. What does this feedback teach me about how I’m perceived?
  5. How does that match with how I want to be perceived?
  6. In what ways did the feedback surprise me?
  7. In what ways did the feedback resonate with my own notions of what I need to work on?

DOWNLOAD THIS PRINTABLE TIP CARD: 7 questions to ask after feedback

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