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Receiving Feedback and Criticism

Updated: Jan 12

What is your first reaction to the word feedback? Do you cringe? Brace yourself for the worst? Get curious? If you feel threatened, have you examined why? Receiving feedback and criticism as a gift is a skill that can be learned.

When we’re young, we ‘re dependent upon our family and seek belonging from friends. We learn how to behave to gain approval and belonging so we feel safe. Over time we develop new skills, tools, and abilities, but we don’t update our assumptions about what is needed for safety.

We associate “negative” or “critical” feedback with lack of approval and get angry or scared. We become stressed and defensive, making us less able to learn and adapt. If you live by the compliment, you’ll die by the criticism.

How do you receive feedback and criticism?

How can we define our own self-worth instead of blowing in the wind of others’ opinions?

The wonderful book Crucial Conversations outlines steps for receiving feedback effectively.

  • Ground yourself. Try using 3-breath technique. Inhale deeply over 3 – 4 seconds; exhale slowly over 7 – 8 seconds, pause. Repeat twice. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers the stress response.

  • Focus on understanding. Get curious. View the feedback as if it’s being said to someone else. Ask, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent human being say what this person is saying?”

  • Take time to recover. Say you need some time to absorb the information before responding and step away.

  • Examine the feedback objectively. Is it all true, all false, or some combination of the two? Sift through the sand to find the gold that could help you.

  • Circle back to the person who gave the feedback. Non-combatively let them know what you heard and what you plan to do.

If you are providing the feedback:

  • Create psychological safety. If the individual is highly distracted or upset, what time would be more appropriate to share to ensure you’ll be heard and understood?

  • How can you set the stage? Where and what time of day is the person most relaxed?

  • If you’re a manager, consider sending your feedback or review in writing in advance, so the person has a chance to absorb and consider it before you discuss it.

Meet feedback with humble, confident curiosity instead of anger or approval-seeking. Be excited by the opportunity to polish the diamond that you are to an even brighter sheen. The more you do this, others will notice you really listen. Your relationship will become more grounded in trust and respect. Isn’t that what we all want?

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