How to Handle Difficult Feedback


Handling unwanted feedback is a challenge. It takes you by surprise so you find yourself reacting more than you should. 

This can lead to a flight or flight response where stress hormones are released within seconds. The ability to hear what's being said accurately diminishes as a result. You start assuming the negative and a simple comment becomes a free for all. NOT fun! 

The most common responses to unwanted feedback include:

  1. Getting defensive and launching into a verbal attack

  2. Keeping quiet to avoid conflict

Both of these reactions create their own havoc. Getting defensive starts a negative cycle of blame that escalates arguments. Hurtful things get said and nothing gets resolved. 

On the other hand, by keeping quiet, you disrespect yourself by not speaking up.  You basically throw yourself under the bus. Anger gets triggered because you realize you did it to yourself.

Handling feedback effectively gives you the chance to hit the pause button. You can either consider the feedback or choose to disregard it.

Here's a quick guide to help you.

Watching Assumptions

Be careful not to make assumptions based on past behavior. When you find yourself dreading comments from your mother-in-law, you're assuming that the past will repeat itself. I'm not saying it won't happen but watch how those assumptions impact your communication.

By assuming, you're trying to predict the future. Don't waste your energy assuming what hasn't happened yet! Thoughts manifest physical reality so the change starts with your thinking. Stop thinking the worst!

Instead, take a minute to recognize where those assumptions take you. Are you starting to get defensive or shut down? Paying attention to the physical signs of stress can shift your attitude. If you're reactions become too intense, opt out of the conversation. Instead, find ways to take care of yourself. 

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Check Your Thoughts

How to handle feedback

How to handle feedback

Part of self-care includes mentally bringing yourself back into the present moment. If aunt Betty tends to criticize you, keep it in the past. Assuming it will happen again creates the same reaction. 

Do something different. If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got. 

Start with a compliment or a joke. Be light and polite and avoid hot topics. Pick something neutral and steer the conversation in a more positive direction.

If feelings get hurt, just admit it. Simply by saying "ouch that kinda hurt" relieves the tension and promotes self care. Use humor (but not sarcasm) and be honest about what you heard. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Practice Acceptance

When you get upsetting feedback, notice your expectations. Are you expecting them to act better than they usually do? If so, you're stuck in unrealistic expectations. In 12 step program, these are considered premeditated resentments.

Personalities don't change much over time, unless you're consciously striving for growth. Hoping others will change fuels resentment and makes relationships more frustrating. 

Instead, practice the art of acceptance to minimize frustration. Accepting a person doesn't mean you like their behavior. They are who they are and that's not necessarily going to change. Simple but not easy.

How to Respond to Feedback

Here are some ways to respond kindly to unwanted feedback.

  • Thanks for your input.

  • I'm feeling a little hurt/uncomfortable.

  • This isn't a good time for me.

  • Can we talk about something else?

  • Acknowledge what's true.

  • You might be right.

  • Let me think about that.

  • That's interesting. I'll have to get back to you on that.

  • I'm not sure that fits for me but I’ll consider it.

  • Politely excuse yourself and take a walk.

Find the Grain of Truth

Another tool is looking for the grain of truth in the feedback. If you're consistently rejecting feedback, you're missing an opportunity. Learning from feedback can lead to tremendous growth. One friend gave me some harsh feedback that I couldn't process until years later. When I became willing to look at it more objectively, that feedback helped me recognized a major relationship pattern. 

Considering feedback is a sign of emotional intelligence. It's an opportunity to learn about yourself that could benefit your relationships in the long run. 

Consider the Source 

Last but not least, consider the source. If Uncle Joe drinks a lot and makes fun of you, consider the source. Detach. If you don't have much of a relationship with that person (and you don't want one), let it go.

Recognize that feedback has something to teach you, but it's your choice to evaluate it. Any feedback is more about the person giving it than it is about you. Find the balance between the grain of truth and not taking it personally. Feedback is about perception and realizing that it's not all about you keeps your reactions in check.

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Receiving negative feedback is always challenging. Click for a quick guide to help you avoid trouble or pin it for later!