3 Tips for Handling Feedback

For many leaders, it can be a challenge not to take feedback personally or view it as criticism. If this is something you experience, your instinct may be to react by becoming self-conscious and defensive or shutting down. These reactions, however, are not serving you. When you shutdown, you may be missing out on the opportunity to learn and improve.

So how do you grow your ability to take criticism in earnest without personalizing it? Here are three tips that might help you to deal with feedback in a less painful way.

Change the mindset from “being criticized” to “receiving feedback.”

What seems like a small change in wording can have an impact on your perception. Webster’s Dictionary defines criticized and feedback as follows:

  • Criticized – to find fault; judge unfavorably or harshly.
  • Feedback – knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance

In the definition of feedback is a key point: influencing or modifying further performance. Change your mindset from being criticized – responsible for my faults – to receiving feedback – find nuggets from which to grow.

Externalize the feedback.

The feedback is not direct at you personally, but at the role of the leader to which you have committed. Thus, for purposes of growth, you want to look at it objectively, without a personal connection and emotional response.

Your ability to be objective hinges on disconnecting emotionally from the reaction to what you are taking in. One tool for disconnecting is your breath. This tool allows time for the gut reaction to pass. Rather than becoming immersed in your emotional response of defensiveness, you become occupied by attention on your breath and the emotion you are experiencing.

  • Inhale and visualize the breath moving toward your emotional reaction
  • See in your mind’s eye your breath grabbing on to that defensiveness.
  • Exhale and visualize the defensiveness going out of the body.

As you disconnect, you cultivate an ability to externalize the experience. By externalizing, you are able to take in the feedback objectively. With objectivity, you can begin to make sense of what you are receiving.

Take what you agree with and discard the rest.

Recognize that feedback is intended to improve key areas of your leadership. That being said, not all of it is helpful.

Feedback is delivered from a point of view. In that point of view are judgments, experiences, values, strengths, beliefs and feelings – all wrapped upon into opinions.

Those opinions may or may not be valid from your point of view. With an eye toward objectivity, be curious. Ask questions. Interact with what you are receiving in order to clarify and understand. Hone in on specifics that align with a direction of growth you have already identified yourself.

With knowledge, you can decide what you want to take and what you want to discard. Ask yourself the following five questions:

  • Might there be any truth in this feedback?
  • If yes, what are truths I agree with?
  • How can I use those truths to my benefit as a leader?
  • Do I want to do anything with it right now?
  • If yes, what do I want to do in order to improve, develop and stretch?

Overcoming defensiveness and learning not to shut down don’t happen overnight. Taking feedback in earnest without personalizing it requires courage and practice.

Why not be begin to practice now? Go out there and ask for it.