Taking the dread out of receiving feedback can happen with as little as a simple twist of words (“I wonder what’s going to happen” instead of “I worry about what’s going to happen”) and a slight shift in beliefs (“All feedback is a gift”). Here are some guidelines that can help transform feedback into food for thought:
Track your own reactions. Recognize your emotions and responses. What body sensations, thoughts, emotions arise? Recognize that whatever arises in your mind is your own responsibility. It is not the other person’s fault you are responding as you are. You get to choose how you think and how you respond. When we own our own reaction, it opens the way for genuine communication with the other person.
Get support. Though it may be difficult to identify, you may feel inhibited and ashamed upon hearing feedback that requires change. Ask trusted friends to listen, encourage and offer suggestions. Work with a coach. Even in settings in which people are expected to be self-reliant (such as many jobs), it’s nearly impossible to make significant change without such encouragement.
Listen with an open mind and heart. Begin by acknowledging that the perception of the person giving feedback is the reality that needs to be looked at. Without confirming or denying the perception of that person, simply listen and take in what he or she has to say.
Change defensiveness to curiosity. Don’t explain or defend yourself. It may be appropriate to bring the subject up later, if explanations are appropriate. For now, though, say the three magic words: “Tell me more!” What has the person giving you feedback observed? What does that person expect or want you to do differently? Don’t assume you know what the other person means…ask questions to clarify your understanding.
Regard all feedback as an act of generosity. Feedback can help you recognize habitual styles that may need to change. It can help you reexamine how you are living your life. It is a wonderful gift. Consider offering sincere appreciation for to the bearer of feedback, even acknowledging how difficult it may have been to deliver the news.
Focus on the message not the packaging. There may be times when feedback is given harshly or by someone with whom we struggle, or there is a mixture of truth and personal distortion in what we are told. Forget about what package the message comes in; what is the message? How can you penetrate to the truth contained in the feedback? What can you learn? Contemplation is a critical step to integrate the message.
Reframe the feedback. When we put feedback in a positive light, negative emotions and responses lose their grip. For example, you could see the feedback on your presentation as a way to improve your chances of promotion, leading you to improve your skills in various ways. Or, the feedback may point you to greater personal success in a position that does not require presentation skills.
The bottom line: Taking feedback to heart puts you in control and takes you out of helplessness. It may require ruthless self-honesty and a little detective work, but the payoff is high.