Ouch. Really? Thanks! How to Accept Feedback as a Gift


Whether at work or at home, critical feedback is often really, really hard to take. On one hand, we wrestle with the actual content of the feedback. On the other hand, receiving critical feedback also tigers a kaleidoscope of conflicting thoughts and unpleasant emotions. Those by themselves, are hard to take. Never mind the actual content of the feedback itself.


How do you handle it when someone tells you that there is something about you they don’t like?


Here a not so uncommon example: A spouse tries to share what bothers them about their partner. Instead of seeing the feedback as an opportunity to better understand each other, the other partner’s ego has them deflect the information and get resentful. They choose to focus on how inaccurate the feedback is instead of taking that opportunity to see it as a gift to learn something about themselves. Instead of being grateful that their spouse risked possible retribution by sharing it, they get upset, defensive, angry. “Why does their spouse not see that they only did xyz because they were reacting to something the spouse had done to them? It wasn’t their fault. They were just reacting.” Sound familiar?


Our totally “human” reaction to feedback, may be preventing us from living in harmony with others.


Psychologists have a name for it: The Fundamental Attribution Error. It leads us to attribute other peoples’ behaviours to their character (“he is defensive”) but our own behaviour to the situation we are reacting to (“she accused me of something, so I had to defend myself”). Unless we are mindful of this bias in our day-to-day interaction with people, it sets us up for failure. And can keep us from living in harmony with others.


Receiving feedback is not easy.


Just before summer vacation, I received some critical feedback. It really threw me for a loop. And a lot longer than I wanted it to. It was on my mind for most of my vacation and invoked a range of different emotions. At first, I was stunned. Then shocked. Then I felt disbelief and terribly misunderstood. I also felt shame and sadness, because it triggered feelings of being an outsider. I thought I belonged in this person’s tribe. How did I get that wrong? It felt like this feedback put many things in question. Seeking safety, it made me want to withdraw.


Do you struggle with taking critical feedback about yourself? What is your default reaction?


Over the period of the following weeks, I continued to go through more emotional stages in an effort to process the feedback. And what it really meant. I still felt terribly misunderstood. Rejected. Other moments, I felt angry. To be totally honest, there was also a little resentment mixed in. It was not a good place to be. I knew I needed to find a better perspective about it. I needed to change my approach. So, I tried to figure out a better way of being with the feedback.  I really wanted to land on a solid learning for myself AND keep my emotions from getting in the way.  I also wanted to discover the steps I could take to make a positive change within me happen. What gift was available for me through this rather unpleasant experience?


It’s hard to see feedback as a gift when it hurts.


Your turn: What feedback has someone shared with you, which really rocked you to your core? How did it make you feel? Did you handle it as well as you wanted to? Did you learn something about yourself or did you try your best to deflect it? Maybe it triggered self-defeating thoughts (“I am not good enough) or self-preserving ones (“They don’t know what they are talking about”)? Both are very normal human reactions ton feedback. What they don’t make room for, however, is learning something valuable about yourself. It is this learning which can become a game changer in the way you interact with people. And therefore, positively influence the trajectory of your life.


Want to sweeten the experience of receiving feedback?



If your default reaction to feedback has room for improvement, check out my top 5 tips below to sweeten the experience:

1. Don’t blame the messenger – Remember, it’s also hard to give feedback. Often it takes a lot of courage for someone to share it. The other person took this risk in service of you, so don’t close yourself off from potentially valuable information, by fixating on how wrong the other person is. Instead, focus on finding the valuable grain (or lump) of truth within the feedback. Hint: It’s not about the other person.

2. See it as a gift – Look at feedback as a game changer opportunity for you. Let the feedback be the cue to take a brutally honest look at yourself. Don’t focus on whether the feedback was right or wrong. Instead, find the morsel of truth in it. And find out how to turn this newfound realization into something actionable to improve your life and relationships with others.

3. Create habits to support a new practice – Based on the feedback, what do you want or need to do differently to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again? Ingrained behaviours are hard to break, so in order to truly make a shift, you need a plan of deliberate practice. How will you catch yourself before you repeat a behaviour? Who can help you with this? How would you rather show up to get better results? Make your answers as precise as possible to help you create habits to support this change.

4. Don’t let the negative dominate – It may be easy to fixate on negative feedback, but it won’t help you become a better person. Find the learning, apply it and move on. Let it help you become the person you want to be. But don’t beat yourself up for having made the mistake. Mistakes are our best teachers, even if they are not our favorite ones!

5. Keep it in perspective -You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Trying to do this is futile. And it will make it impossible to live the life you really want to live. Once you have taken the nugget of learning out of the feedback and applied it to your life, it’s time to let go of the negative emotions the feedback may have evoked. And this includes learning to be okay when people do not agree with what you do.


Try to apply the above tips the next time you receive negative feedback. No doubt, there will me more feedback in store for all of us in the future. And thankfully so. They are practice opportunities to grow into the person we are meant to be.




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