Nobody enjoys being critiqued, corrected, or criticized. It’s hard to hear that we’re not good enough, or that we’re not okay just the way we are. It’s hard even when we’ve asked for the feedback because we want to grow, develop, or simply improve. Even when we agree that the comments are true.
So it’s only natural that we feel resistance to being critiqued when we haven’t actually asked for the feedback, disagree with it, or feel misjudged.
It’s easy to find suggestions for accepting and applying feedback (in fact, I’ve written some of them!). But you may want to consider a more down-and-dirty approach, as well as some other practical aspects that struck me after a few recent feedback sessions during which I observed the recipients struggling:
Does the source of your feedback have the right to give it by virtue of position, relationship, or expertise in the subject? Be careful with this answer. Anyone, irrespective of their role, responsibility, or formal knowledge, may have observed a flaw in your perfection — or may care enough about you and your success to be trying to help you — whether you want them to or not and whether you think they’re entitled to or not. Can you manage your emotional reaction enough to get the content?
Do you disagree intensely? If the content itself sends you up and over the wall, that could be a signal that you’re so wedded to your original, natural, or preferred way of doing things that you’re not at all objective about what’s right or what works best. Encourage yourself to stay open, the same way you encourage yourself to keep going during a challenging workout. Tell yourself that you can take it, that you’ll recognize the value afterwards despite feeling uncomfortable now.
Could the feedback possibly be true, valid, or relevant? Are there any conditions in which the feedback applies? Is there any bit of it that’s useful? If your answer is a resounding no, then it’s very unlikely that you’ve permitted yourself to take the content in. Have a little modesty, please! We all have room for improvement.
What will happen if you don’t apply the feedback? Look rigorously at all the ramifications of inaction, which can run from the impact on the commenter all the way to a growing blindness about yourself, your efficacy in the world, and your overall potential for success and happiness. Even if you’re right (and perfect to boot), someone else has identified something they believe should be changed — and has taken steps to let you know. What’s that really about? What else is going on? Will your wholesale rejection set anything else in motion?
Accepting feedback is a lot of work — whether or not you actually figure out how to make the requested change. (We’ll address that another time.) Start by trying to notice all the ways people give you feedback this week, and see if you can be more conscious of how you’re reacting to it.
Onward and upward,