How to Keep Feedback From Messing with Your Head

How to Keep Feedback From Messing with Your Head

How certain do you feel about your own abilities?

Up to 82% of Americans struggle with imposter syndrome, a feeling that they don’t deserve their current level of accomplishment, and any moment someone will find out that they’re a fraud. 

Most people aren’t frauds, of course, but imposter syndrome is powerful and can make it hard to accept constructive criticism and feedback. If you find yourself defensive, angry, or embarrassed when you get feedback, you’re certainly not alone.

The good news is that you can learn to be more gracious in receiving feedback and growing from it. From confronting imposter syndrome to surrounding yourself with the right support structure, here are some steps you can take. 

Evaluate your response to feedback

In the moment, you may have a highly emotional response to feedback, but after the fact, you can step back and evaluate your response.

Consider journaling the answers to the following questions:

  • How did you feel getting feedback?
  • What thoughts were going through your head?
  • What are the sources of those thoughts?

As you answer these questions, you’ll start to see what it is about feedback that makes it hard to take. Whether you uncover beliefs in line with imposter syndrome or identify messages about your capabilities that came from your childhood, or see ideas you formed through other professional experiences, knowing the reasons you react to feedback is helpful.

Once you identify the underlying reasons for your emotional reactions, you can start to work on them — from overcoming imposter syndrome to challenging perfectionism. This will allow you to reach a point where you’re more level in the face of constructive criticism.

Implement strategies to make feedback easier

The next step is to take steps to help you take constructive feedback in a way that’s helpful so that you can grow from it. This is essential — especially if you work in an industry where feedback is regularly given.

Say you work in marketing: how can you expect to grow your marketing skills without actually taking useful feedback to heart? With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of strategies for receiving feedback that can help you grow professionally and personally.

Give space for your emotions

One of the best ways to make feedback easier is to avoid giving any response in the moment. Instead, listen carefully to the full message without interrupting. Thank the person for the feedback, and then remove yourself from the situation.

Once you’re alone, you can start to process the emotions you’re feeling and why they’re coming up. You can ask yourself questions to see whether the feedback is true or not, as well as examine the beliefs behind your emotional response.

After you’ve done this emotional evaluation privately, you’ll be far better able to give a professional response to the feedback.

Approach feedback with curiosity

Professionals often feel the need to immediately either accept or reject constructive criticism. However, there’s a third option that is often far more helpful — taking an attitude of curiosity about the situation.

Being curious means you haven’t decided whether the feedback is good, bad, or indifferent. Instead, you’re investigating, which helps you remove emotions from the situation. Instead of being angry or blaming yourself for mistakes, you can ask questions like, “Why do they see it this way?” and “What can I learn from this perspective?” 

This kind of open-minded exploration allows you to see things in the criticism that you might have missed if you immediately accepted or rejected it.

Reach out to trusted colleagues

Trusted colleagues are a great resource when you want to ask for feedback, and they can also be a support system when you receive constructive criticism that’s challenging.

Trusted coworkers can help you determine if the feedback you receive is helpful or not and how you can respond professionally. For example, if your boss gives you specific feedback, colleagues can help you evaluate how to apply the helpful and true parts of it to your work so you can grow and improve.

On the other hand, if someone gives unhelpful or untrue feedback, your trusted colleagues can reassure you and help you move forward with what’s actually true about your performance.

Mine the feedback for helpful facts and advice

Sometimes you’ll get feedback that’s confusing or long-winded, and it can be hard to know what you’re supposed to pull from it that’s helpful and actionable.

In that case, you’ll need to take time to reflect on what was said and consider what nuggets you can pull out that will help you grow. This is where careful listening can come in handy — you’ll be able to catch more of the details in the feedback, which will help you determine what’s most useful.

Mining out the useful parts of rambling feedback can help you get the most out of any constructive criticism you receive.

When to ignore feedback

Not all feedback is helpful — no matter who the source is or what they say about the criticism. Unhelpful feedback is something that won’t help you grow or improve and may have malicious intent. 

How can you identify feedback you can ignore? Watch for the following:

  • The feedback is rude, condescending, or hostile;
  • There’s no clear area for improvement;
  • The feedback isn’t useful because it’s after the fact and you can’t do anything to change the situation.

No matter who is giving you feedback, if it has any or all of these three attributes, it’s not helpful, and you don’t need to take it personally

Have open conversations about feedback

If you’ve received helpful feedback and you have questions about how to apply it, it can help to have an open and honest conversation with the giver of the feedback. 

Consider setting up a meeting or sending an email where you describe what was unclear or what questions you have and see how they respond. You might be able to bring supportive colleagues to the meeting or have a separate conversation with them afterward to get their perspective.

It’s important to keep these conversations professional, so make sure you’ve taken other steps like managing your emotions and determining whether the feedback is helpful first. From there, you can have a respectful conversation about how to grow as you move forward.

Receiving feedback is an essential professional skill

No one grows without receiving and applying constructive feedback. However, it’s very common to have a strong emotional reaction to receiving correction or criticism. 

By managing your emotions first, you can move forward with useful practices that will allow you to learn from your mistakes, others’ perspectives, and confirmation from trusted colleagues. The pursuit of professional excellence requires us to be open to external input and develop the ability to reflect on these comments and grow from them. 

Ultimately, constructive feedback is a gift, and you can choose how to open it. Approaching the situation with curiosity and openness allows you to grow personally and professionally.


Today's post is a guest post from Amanda Winstead. 

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

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