Life Maven

How to Handle Unwelcome Feedback with Grace

In our careers, it’s pretty common to receive feedback and advice.

Some of it welcome, some of it not.

Advice, when delivered badly, can send our confidence through the floor. Leaving us questioning our abilities and wondering if we’re really good enough to achieve our dreams. 

Great advice, on the other hand, can stick with us for decades, acting as a touchstone that we mentally return to again and again throughout our career.

Unfortunately we have no control on the advice delivery and frequently feedback is unexpected so we have little to no warning to mentally prepare ourselves.

Particularly when someone points out something about us, the sting, the feel of criticism can cloud us from seeing the value in what’s being said.

However feedback, advice, whatever you want to call it is an opportunity for growth and reflection, a part of the professional development process, so we can’t just ignore it in order to ignore the pain. We need to learn how to process the message in a way that supports us and helps us be the best we possibly can be.

After over a decade in the workplace receiving feedback (both helpful and not), here’s what I know works to get the most out of the advice without it sending you into the depths of self-doubt.

Always Be Grateful for Feedback

Here’s the thing. If someone is taking the time to give you feedback, to share some advice, that’s incredibly generous of them.

The attitude is always, always, ALWAYS, thank you for pointing that out to me.

Or I don’t understand. As in, please explain further so I get your point.

We’re not evaluating the quality of the feedback or whether the person’s motives are true or whether we think it’s worth taking it on board. We’re simply receiving gracefully.

It’s like when someone gives us a compliment. We’re not always comfortable about what they’re saying, we don’t always agree with them but the response is always thank-you. Receiving gracefully.

When my mentor passed on this wisdom to me (which had been passed onto him and now I’m passing to you), I don’t think I fully got what he was trying to tell me. My response was along the lines of, “Well that makes sense. Of course I’m thankful if someone takes the time to give me feedback.” I got it more on an intellectual, rational level.

Now, six years later, I understand this point on a deeper level.

I see how only having these two responses – thank you and I don’t understand – removes the fight. You’re not immediately jumping to defend yourself or justify your behaviour.

It creates space to process the feedback, to evaluate its value.

Sometimes Advice Isn’t Actually About You

Evaluating feedback, deciding whether it’s something you’re going to pay attention to, has two stages.

  1. Is the feedback actually about you?
  2. Do you feel like it’s valid?

Both of these stages, help you figure out whether the advice is worth taking on board or whether to simply move on. I’m not sure the order of these two points really matters, and as is often the way in real life rather than a neatly thought out article, they probably get tangled together in practice. But for the sake of clarity, we’re going to deal with them independently.

So sometimes, advice isn’t actually about you. 

This is really about evaluating the deliverer of the feedback. 

What is the basis of the feedback? What prompted them to share with you? What experience are they drawing on? What about them gives them credibility, shows that they know what they’re talking about? What are their motives?

It is important to note that just because all of the above might not receive favourable answers, it doesn’t automatically dismiss the feedback. Great feedback can come from all quarters. 

This is why we start with thank you. If we’re already grateful for receiving the feedback, we are mentally primed to evaluate it more dispassionately. We’ve created some mental bandwidth to actually be open to the possibility that there is some value there, something to be gained as opposed to jumping to the defensive and dismissing it straightaway. 

But we do evaluate the source of the advice to ensure we’re not taking to heart something that was said because someone was having a bad day. Or tying ourselves in knots trying to do something that goes completely against our instincts because someone with no experience said that was the way to do it.

People have egos. People are insecure. They lash out and even though they are doing and saying what they think is right, we are all human just doing the best we can. So before you decide that that one point means you’re doomed to failure, take a step back and remember you’re doing an awesome job and this is just another opportunity for learning. 

You Don’t Need to Change Exactly How They Said

No one is you. No one has your exact experience, skills, temperament, superpowers, instincts, values, relationships, thought processes. 

So someone else’s perspective is just that, their perspective.

They can give you suggestions and guidance and all the advice in the world but it’s up to YOU to decide what feels right.

How does the feedback sit with you? When you consider making that change, how does your body react? What thoughts come up? If you tweak what you implement, does that feel better? What if you do nothing, what response does that get?

Consider different options and paths until you hit on the one that feels ahhhhhhh, that’s it, that’s my way forward. Shoulders relaxed, mind quiet.

This is about trusting yourself. It’s about knowing yourself well enough to put your spin on it. 

It’s actually super empowering to be able to take feedback on board and make it work for you. To integrate it into what you’re already doing and know works for you. 

If we try to implement change exactly how someone else says, we start to work against ourselves, to fight our inherent tendencies, we’re trying to fit our square peg in a round hole.

That’s how feedback and advice end up feeling tortuous. Like another thing to contort ourselves around. 

Leading to feeling despondent, questioning our abilities, despairing of our success. 

Every piece of feedback or advice that we assimilate needs to come from an empowered place of “I already do good work, I’m already awesome and this is going to make me even better”. Integrating feedback should feel like you’re adding to yourself, that you’re uplevelling. 

See how that is different from the narrative that “I must be awful, I must be making mistakes all the time, I don’t know what I’m doing so my only option is do exactly what they say.”

The challenge with the second perspective is that we end up doing that with EVERY piece of advice that comes our way, to the point that we don’t know what way is up anymore. We question everything because we don’t trust ourselves to know what’s right. Basically we drive ourselves crazy.

Make a Clear Decision on What Action You’re Taking

Once you’ve made up your mind about the advice, it’s important to be decisive about what you’re going to do with it.

Don’t ruminate indefinitely, going back and forth, taking up valuable brain power and emotion energy wondering. Decide!

This could look like choosing to be aware and looking out for that behaviour. You’re not committing to actively doing something different or stopping something. Simply knowing that now it’s been brought to your attention will help you observe it in the moment and you can adjust accordingly then.

I once received feedback that I’m not always flexible when something pops up and my plan for the day needs to change. Having that pointed out to me means now when that situation arises, I observe my resistance and get on with what needs to be done. I know I’m never going to flow with spontaneity easily, it’s not in my nature. So I’m not going to put tonnes of pressure on myself trying to be someone I’m not. I recognise that being flexible is a part of life and being aware that it can be a sticky moment for me is enough to navigate it more easily.

So you can decide to ignore the feedback, decide to be aware of it and watch for that behaviour, you can decide to make changes. If you’re choosing the action path, ensure that you are also being definite in the action. You are more likely to follow through if you set specific action. 

Advice is Here to Support You

Ultimately receiving feedback with grace is a whole lot easier if we remember that it’s for our benefit.

Yes sometimes it stings,

Yes sometimes the delivery is terrible.

Yes sometimes the motivations behind the advice are suspect.

But equally, people want you to succeed.

People want you to learn from their mistakes so it’s easier for you.

Feedback and advice are learning opportunities and as I always say, no learning is ever wasted.

Say thank you. Let the emotion pass. Evaluate the feedback. Decide what to do about it and move on. Lesson learned.

All this week in The Independent Mavenhood I’m sharing my favourite pieces of career advice that I’ve ever received. Go here to join the Mavenhood and watch the first video!

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