Feeling anxious, scared, or scattered when you know you’re about to get feedback is part of human nature. Our brains want us to stay safe from pain – we evolved this way – which is why we become defensive, find reasons to discredit the other person’s opinion, or avoid situations where we might get feedback entirely.
Yet feedback, even during times when your brain is attempting everything in its power to avoid hearing it, is crucial to your growth.
People who can receive feedback, process it, and use it to inform better work in the future are the people who get ahead. Not only will you become smarter, you’ll be more likely to have people who want to collaborate with you, share ideas with you, and make amazing things with you.
We all fear feedback, but we can practice not taking it personally and gain as much value from it as possible to elevate our work. Here are tips and tools to help you handle feedback more effectively.
So how do you do it?
First, a little about the psychology of receiving feedback.
The shaky, sweaty, anxious feeling you get before you anticipate some negative criticism is very normal. TED Podcast “Worklife with Adam Grant” investigates why receiving feedback can be so crushing and how you can learn to love it. He recalls a study from a few decades ago that found in these scenarios our ego becomes so defensive that it takes on its own little “totalitarianism regime.”
“It starts to control the flow of information to our brains… think about that. Your own brain is censoring what you hear,” he says. But, he adds, “If we never hear criticism, we will never improve.”
So while hearing criticism might always feel hard, learning how to receive feedback with grace and seeing it for the positive opportunity that it is, will always be worth it.
With a few tips and some practice, you can make the experience of receiving feedback with an open mind one that is more helpful than it is harrowing, and who knows – you may even start to look forward to your reviews.
Manage your emotions with breath
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, defeated, or even angry when you receive feedback. You may feel that it’s not fair, that some information has been overlooked, or that you did the best you could with the resources available.
Becoming defensive is a normal reaction to criticism. It is our fight or flight response going into effect. Our brains are trying to calculate the best possible way to keep us safe from the pain of critique.
Remember, though, that this is your ego responding, and not necessarily your best self. So it is within your power to keep calm, open, and friendly while receiving feedback. You are still in control, and can make the decision to learn from the experience.
First, know that this feedback is probably not a criticism of you as a person. Most likely, it’s just about the work. Your work is separate from you, and it is something you can change. You are here to learn how you can do it better.
Take a few deep breaths before and throughout the meeting. Breathing exercises have been shown to alleviate stress significantly. Staying calm will help keep you open to the critiques and making the most of the meeting.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise is a good way to calm down. Dr. Andrew Weil, who coined the technique, calls it a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
Practice active listening
Perhaps the most important part of receiving feedback is how much of it actually registers with you. It’s easy to let the mini totalitarian regime inside your head set in and let you hear only what you want to hear. But to make the most out of these situations, aim for really active listening.
Why? It’ll help you process the information critically. Instead of immediately acting defensively, you can take in the feedback and react appropriately and professionally.
A helpful way to do that is to take notes during the meeting, or to do a recap afterwards. This gives you something to do with your hands while you’re listening and also increases your chances of absorbing more information.
It’s hard to take in a lot of information all at once, especially while you’re potentially having an emotional reaction. Your notes are a resource to refer to later, when you’re in a less emotional state, to draw your most valuable lessons and growth from.
Other ways to practice active listening include:
- Make eye contact. This helps you form a connection with the person speaking to you; you are showing them that you are listening. If it’s hard for you to maintain consistent eye contact, try to check in for a few seconds at a time while you are listening to show that you aren’t tuning them out.
- Ask questions. You want to make sure you and your colleague are on the same page about things. If you don’t understand something, speak up. This is their opportunity to help you.
- Refrain from interrupting. It is crucial to appear calm when receiving feedback, especially when the feedback may not be positive. Not only will this help you appear more confident, but it will also help you to fully comprehend what the other person is saying.
Take this golden opportunity for what it is — a moment to create a plan and do better work.
When you can, work out what to do next in the meeting. Thanks for their input, and ask them if they want to help you outline a solution to improve. Talk about ways to keep the communication loop open as you continue to work; getting their feedback all along the way will help you avoid a big surprise later.
If you’re feeling too emotional or stressed in the moment, thank the person for their feedback and let them know you would like to take some time to process it all. Ask if you can schedule a followup conversation to figure out next steps. Bonus points if you show up to that meeting with a proposed plan yourself — and again, be open to their feedback and tips for improving on your proposed ideas.
This is part of the process
The final thing to keep in mind about receiving feedback like a pro is to not let it define you or ruin your day.
Receiving feedback is a natural part of growth.
Learn from it, ask questions, make adjustments as necessary and keep on moving forward. You will always be learning and growing. You are not a failure; you are simply taking another step forward on your path to success.