The Way to Respond to Hard Feedback

You feel misunderstood. You feel defensive. Your voice is quavering. Your pulse is racing. Your palms are sweaty. You feel an urge to fight, to convince the other person that they are wrong. Or to take flight: to simply to get out of the room as fast as possible.

These are natural reactions when you do not feel psychologically safe. When negative feedback is given unskillfully, and when we are not ready and open to receive it, we can experience it as an identity threat. We shut down. We do not hear the feedback. Our relationship with the other person is put on shaky ground.

Amid all this emotional swirl, hard though it may be, remember to ask just one question and quietly listen to the answer:

“If we had a do-over of this situation, what would you have liked me to do differently?”

Asking this question does not mean that you agree with the feedback. It boils down the conversation to the core element. It ensures that you have heard what you need to hear for your benefit, despite the difficult emotions that are clouding your senses.

Listen. Reflect back what you heard. And then say:

“Thank you for sharing this with me. I’d like to reflect on this a bit and then maybe get back to you”.

This buys you time to reflect. Feedback is always a gift, but not one that you must accept in its entirety. You can take the parts that serve your growth and development toward being your best self… and disregard the rest. After all, feedback is just someone’s (or some peoples’ opinions). There may be consequences to ignoring feedback, in the case of a manager or a customer for instance. With the benefit of space and perspective, you give yourself the opportunity to regain the power to consider which parts of the gift you will accept.  And you give yourself the power to decide objectively which parts you will gracefully – and gratefully – put to one side.