How to receive feedback you don’t like

Let’s face it, no one likes to be told they’re not good at something; criticism hurts. We all say we want feedback and we can be logical about why feedback is important. But in reality, we want to be loved and adored by all and for everyone to think we’re awesome! (Which of course, we are.)

However, constructive criticism in an important tool for both personal and professional development. It pushes us to take part in self analysis, prioritise our focus and encourages us to improve ourselves.

Up to 92% of participants in Zenger & Folkman’s research agreed with the statement: “Negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.”

This statement puts the onus on the person delivering the feedback to ensure it’s level of “appropriateness” makes it effective. But the process of feedback is a two way thing. And whilst you can’t control how a person delivers negative feedback to you, you can control how to receive it.

So how do you do this? Here are some hacks to receive feedback more effectively.

1.Listen carefully

Firstly, a little bit of house keeping: when receiving feedback, make sure you maintain good eye contact, keep your body language open (don’t cross your arms) and do not interrupt. This should all go without saying.

You need to make sure you’re not distracted and that you’re listening intently to distinguish exactly what is being said: is it opinion or fact?

  • Opinion: you ran a meeting poorly.
  • Fact: you didn’t hit your KPIs.

Both may be accurate, but listening carefully will enable you to sort fact from opinion and allow you to respond effectively when the time is right.

2. Don’t get defensive

If you’re told something you don’t agree with, think is wrong or irrational, it’s totally natural to rebuff what was said or ask for questions clarifying the point.

The problem is that when it comes to feedback, even if you’re right and the feedback is wrong, defending your actions, behaviour or attitude sends the signal to the person giving the feedback that you are unreceptive.

Trying to prove you’re right makes you come across as argumentative. It suggests to the person giving the feedback that you’re close-minded to the useful information they’re trying to give you — and it may be useful, even if it’s presented poorly.

The key is to listen without planning a response. Show you are open to the feedback by nodding and keeping your body language open. Allow the person giving the feedback to completely finish all they have intended to say without interruption.

Once they have finished, asking questions helps eliminate the appearance of defensiveness and keeps us from immediately jumping to justify our actions.

Ask questions like: “I want to be sure I understand what you’re saying. Do I have it right that you feel….” or “It would really help me if you could give me an example of why you feel….”. These questions signal to the person giving the feedback that you’ve taken on board what they’ve said and are interested in further insight.

These questions can help the person giving feedback communicate clearly whatever his or her core message may be. Especially if it was originally presented in an unconstructive way.

3. Ask for time

Once the feedback has been given and you have listened intently, it is useful to ask for time to consider what has been said.

There are several benefits to doing this:

  • It tells the other person that you view the feedback important enough that you want to take time to consider it carefully.
  • It gives you time to evaluate the accuracy of what was said, and to even test its validity with others.
  • It allows you to move away from a situation where you may feel emotional, and gives you an opportunity to consider what was said privately and in your own time.

Say something like, “I appreciate your feedback. I’d like to take some time and give what you’ve said some real thought and get back to you.” This will demonstrate that you take the feedback seriously.

As a result of taking this time to consider the feedback and not diving into rebuttals during the first conversation, the person who gave the feedback will feel heard and understood. Therefore, it is more likely that whatever explanations you offer in the follow up conversation will be more carefully considered and be put into perspective by bother giver and receiver.

4. Keep perspective

Finally, it is important to understand that criticism cannot hurt you. You may initially get upset by constructive criticism and this is totally natural. But it’s up to you whether you allow it to negatively affect you.

People don’t always agree, and in your follow up conversation the other person may not accept your explanations and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean you should internalise the negative feedback and feel resentful to the person giving the feedback.

Remember that criticism and negative feedback are a fact of life. Make a decision about how you’re going to deal with it.

You can either take the feedback onboard and do something with it to improve yourself, or you forget about it and move on.


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