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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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5 Tips to Help you Take Feedback the Right Way

I have a friend who is really sensitive to any kind criticism or feedback. She gets defensive and mad, and she reacts by attacking the other person. As a result, she has “trained” the people around her not to give her advice, ideas, or in fact, any guidance at all. And she wonders why she is not selected for promotions and team projects.

Everyone knows that feedback can be painful. It can feel like an attack, and our natural reaction is to be defensive. Most people find criticism hard to deal with. But learning how not to take criticism personally can make our lives and our careers a whole lot easier.

Here are few ways to make the best of feedback, even if we do not want to hear it:

1. Choose to see feedback as an opportunity – It can be easier not to react emotionally to criticism if you reframe it as feedback. It was not intended as a personal attack, so do not interpret as one. Try to see critiques as an opportunity to learn how to do things better next time. Think of it as a prompt to grow and use it to course correct.

2. Remember you only have your perspective – Before you react to a terse email or a grouchy response from your boss, try to remember that you do not know where they are coming from. You might be reaping the effect of a difficult day, a string of frustrations, or even their reaction to their own bad feedback. Try to objectively see events from their point of view instead of your own.

3. Pause – I always liked part of the show, How I Met Your Mother, when Marshall and Lilly could be in an argument and either one of them could say “pause” to allow emotions to calm down or to deal with something more pressing. Pause means stop and shift. Our immediate reaction to being criticized is often to become defensive. Instead, take a breath (or three), pause, and think about how your actions or words could have been misinterpreted before you respond. Take another look at what your critic is saying and see what you can learn once you have allowed some time for your initial emotions to dissipate.

4. Objectively reframe your response – Reacting to criticism is a habit like any other behavior, and you have the capacity to change it. Take yourself out of the equation. Try to look at the situation like a football referee and see all sides. Ask yourself what you can learn or how you can help. Maybe they misunderstood. Perhaps your communication was not clear enough. Practice processing feedback in a constructive way.

5. Be kind to yourself, but do not wallow in self-pity – There is no getting around it – being criticized can feel pretty rotten. Be kind to yourself, especially while you are learning to handle criticism differently. Acknowledge the emotions that have been evoked. Accept that feedback can hurt.

Then distance yourself from those feelings. Give yourself a timeline to process those emotions, “After 2 PM I will stop feeling sorry for myself and be proactive with this information.”
Make a calendar commitment to be in a different brain space so you can move forward in a healthy way.


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