Growing up in the self-esteem, thumbs-up social media culture has its perks until things go bad
Being a full-time speaker and writer is one of the greatest joys of my life. I care deeply about the messages I share and put in countless hours to ensure they resonate with the unique challenges and opportunities my clients face. My work is my art, and I immerse my whole self into it. So when the post-speaking surveys and book reviews roll in, I’m not going to lie: I feel a knot form in the pit of my stomach.
Most of the time the feedback is helpful, constructive, and affirming, so I tuck it away in my encouragement or lessons learned file, improve, and move on. (Yes- I keep an encouragement and lessons learned folder. No judging, please!) Other times, the comments really sting. Take this recent snippet, for example: “Jessica is a mediocre speaker at best. I’ve heard better.” Ouch.
Negative feedback can leave us feeling raw, vulnerable, and discouraged. If we’re not careful, these emotions can hinder us from exploring some important questions that lead to maturity and growth.
What to do when feedback stings
If you’re early in your career and enthusiastic to do well, you understand the value of feedback and wonder how the world ever functioned under the “no news is good news” model. The problem is, for many in our generation, negative feedback is unknown territory because we were constantly praised as children of the self-esteem movement and as digital natives on social media sites laden with thumbs up, hearts, and stars.
“Thumbs down” feedback is tough to swallow. After all, how do you know if the person’s opinion is true? Should you believe their every word, reject their comments, or use them as motivation to fuel you forward? Before dismissing negative feedback as wrong, consider the following exercise:
- Pause. Emotions run high when negative news comes in. To avoid doing or saying something you’ll regret, take a deep breath and sleep on it for at least 24-hours. Have a canned response ready, something like: “I appreciate your feedback. Let me ponder it, and follow-up with you soon.”
- Evaluate. Once you can think more logically and objectively, ask yourself some hard questions: could there by any truth to the feedback you received? Sometimes anger bubbles up because you know a person’s assessment is right, or because they exposed an insecurity or fear. Other times the person may have a malicious intent, or just had a bad day and took it out on you. You know in your gut if there is truth to their feedback. Be brave and search within.
- Look for trends. Are multiple people telling you the same thing, or was this particular feedback just a one-off? Trends tell a story. I once had a friend tell me, “Twelve of my very best friends gave me the same bad advice. Clearly, I chose the wrong friends!” Oh my. If the people who know you best tell you the same thing- listen up. That, my friends, is a critical mass!
- Ask others. If, after pausing and reflecting, you are not able to gain clarity or self-awareness, ask others who you know you well. Surrounding yourself with a core group of people who shoot it to you straight is a must for growth and development.
- Respond appropriately. If a critical mass is telling you something- listen, improve, and thank them for caring enough to share. If the feedback is a one-off jab with no validity, LET IT GO. You are not going to please everyone, nor should that be the goal.
- Separate who you are from what you do. Positive and negative feedback has no bearing on your identity. It simply sheds light on how others perceive your behaviors… not your being. For years, I took negative feedback personally because I was insecure. Now I understand that I am the same person when praise flows as I am when criticism rolls in. Neither opinion defines my worth, as it is anchored in something much deeper.
Good and bad feedback- when communicated with a pure intent- is one of the best ways to gauge how you are doing, to make improvements, and to develop tough skin. Are you courageous enough to hear what others have to say, and to assess their words for truth?
Any other ideas for receiving feedback that stings?
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