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How to receive feedback the right way so it benefits you

Written by
Alina Ruiz Guerra
Published on
January 25, 2024

Seeking feedback is natural, but often it brings paradoxical reactions. We crave it for affirmation but may also feel a reluctance to face constructive criticism. Positive feedback serves as a source of encouragement, providing a boost, while navigating suggestions for improvement can pose a more intricate challenge.

Throughout my career I have had my portion of negative feedback, which made me feel anxious, insecure and handled unfairly. It took me quite a few years before I have been able to design the perfect system which would allow me to process this feedback, but also graciously accept it. 

We all had that colleague or boss, who would give us feedback in a most odd way. Feedback is originally designed to make us feel and perform better, even if was focused on something we may not have done in the best way. And yet somehow, some people just have the special way of making us feel very bad when receiving their negative comments. I can pretty surely state, that all of us been there, and most likely haven’t handled it in our best way. 

Perception is reality.

My biggest `aha` moment of my entire career was realising the mystery of perception. I will never get tired of repeating, perception is reality. And one of the main reasons we struggle to understand negative feedback is our difference in perception of same things, situations, relationships. What we often don’t realise, perception is reality for the counterpart and has all the rights to exist. Our goal should be clarifying what the perception was and how could it be corrected to make sure we are on the same page. 

All of us come from different backgrounds, even if we are born and raised on the same street, attended same schools and been friends with the same people. Every person is unique, with their own set of experiences, values, beliefs, and cultural background. These individual differences shape how people interpret and respond to different situations.

7 steps of handling negative feedback with grace: 

Try to do the following before you chose to respond or react next time you receive negative feedback:

  • Relevance check – try to determine how relevant this feedback is, is it worth to be looked at closer or maybe could just accept and move on? It might lack context, consider clarifying it to make sure you are on the same page. 
  • Your follow up options – is there any action expected from you upon this feedback? What are the actions you could possibly take, if any? 
  • Significance - how does this feedback impact your day to day and how important for you to do something about it?
  • Clarify – if feedback is negative, there is always a chance there could be a misunderstanding or miscommunication. No, we don’t try to prove the other person is wrong, as it could be their perception. Instead, we try to understand, if our actions were really indeed in the way that were seen. 
  • Constructiveness – was the feedback constructive or rather emotional and irrational? If not constructive, I strongly encourage you to exit the situation and suggest to return to it later once able to discuss in a more constructive manner. 
  • Emotions check – are you able to continue or you need time to calm down and find your peace with it? If you could only continue in an emotional dialogue, then it is better to reschedule it and allow yourself the time you need to calm down. 
  • Validity check – one last thing to check once you have done all of the above, reflect to see, if indeed there is a room for improvement and you could use this feedback to possibly impact your performance or behaviour. 

Providing feedback is a skill.

Providing feedback in a professional and constructive manner is a skill. It needs constant polishing, as we often give feedback on different subjects and to different individuals. We need to adjust our communication style depending on who the feedback is for, it requires a lot of emotional intelligence. 

Having to receive negative feedback in unprofessional and not constructive manner is a very unpleasant experience. It takes a lot of patience and wisdom to be able to accept and handle this feedback in the most efficient manner.

How to disagree when receiving  negative feedback?

One thing I could tell you for certain, you are always welcomed to disagree with the style of feedback communication. If you never share your concerns the chances that the style won’t change in the future are very high. 

I suggest and encourage you to always make clear, that the style the person has chosen to communicate their feedback to you didn’t make you feel good. 

Do not focus on what the other person did or say. Focus on how it made you feel. That’s the key. Always only talk about yourself and your perception of the feedback itself and its communication style. 

Seek to understand why the person chosen this communication style, maybe there are some other facts you are not familiar about, which don’t justify the chosen communication style but will reassure you it is not the style you should expect the next time as well. 

Feedback is not always a reality.

And remember, feedback is just feedback. In most of the cases the feedback is shared with the aim of helping you, guiding you, improving your results. If we leave our emotions outside the door and try to really hear it, there are very high chances we will find something useful for us to reflect on, something we could work on improving, something we shall consider next time we are performing that same task. 

We do have flaws. Both our strong and weaker sides, define who we are. We should be able to clearly acknowledge for ourselves the things we are very good at and the things we wish we handled better. Making it clear for yourself often helps to better digest the negative feedback we receive. 

I wish you to encourage the feedback, seek for not only positive but also negative one. It helps clarifying difference in perceptions, gives support in improving the things we know we should improve but avoid talking about it out loud. 

And never forget, its just feedback. We have all we need to improve our response to it and our followup actions to increase the ratio of positive and flattering feedback we all prefer. 

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