Negative feedback! Do these words send a jolt of fear and shame into your very soul? If so, you’re not alone. It’s something that a lot of high achievers have in common. Perhaps you are a perfectionist who has set very high standards for yourself throughout your life? Perhaps you work in a competitive environment and are surrounded by other people you perceive to be brilliant and talented (more so than you perceive yourself to be)? Perhaps you are a people pleaser and rely on external validation for evidence that you are good enough at what you do and who you are?
If any of these statements resonate, then this blog is for you. Negative feedback for you can be a massive setback. It’s not just an isolated opinion on a particular piece of work or event – it feels like an assassination of your worth and character. It can knock your confidence so badly that you question yourself and your position. If you suffer from Imposter Syndrome, it’s the ultimate proof that you were right all along! The same downward spiral of confirmatory self-doubt plays out in many high-achievers’ minds.
But it’s time to stop. To stop imbuing negative feedback with such all-encompassing devastating personal meaning. Negative feedback only means what you make it mean. You are in control of the impact it has on your life. You can decide whether it is a true indictment of your personal inadequacy or whether it is a specific opportunity for growth and learning. Everyone receives negative feedback. What separates those who suffer as a result of it and those who don’t, is their ability to see it as a gift. To do this, understand that feedback is neutral and non-discriminatory. It only becomes negative when you choose to see it that way. Choose to see it positively and you can make it work for you.
To make negative feedback work for you, you need to learn to process it objectively, and extract from it the nuggets of value that it contains. Evaluate it like an adult (and a lawyer!) – is there a grain of truth? How true is it, and what evidence is there to support it are all valid mature questions that can work for you when you remove emotion from the equation. From here you can engage with the person who delivered the feedback with objectivity and confidence. Ask them for evidence, more information and more clarity so you can use it as an opportunity to learn.
Easier said than done I know! If you’re someone for whom the negative story loop has been playing for some time, this will be hard. Your automatic response is to think negative thoughts about feedback. So take a step back. To change this ‘automatic’ response, the easiest first stage is to simply notice – notice the thoughts that go through your head when you receive negative feedback. Notice what you say to yourself. Notice how you feel physically (I know I feel a knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach – sometimes i feel physically sick!). Notice all the ways that you are making ‘feedback’ mean that you’re no good in your own head.
Once your awareness is raised, make yourself objectively consider your options. Should you automatically assume the negative feedback reflects badly on you personally, or could you instead ask yourself “What else could this mean?”. I like to start with the assumption that there’s something in the feedback I can learn from, a nugget of gold somewhere, I just need to find it. And inevitably I always do. There’s always something I learn, and the feedback turns out to be a gift.
This has led me to the conclusion that the best alternative thought for dealing with feedback is that all comments which seem negative at first glance, are a gift. That’s because they are an opportunity not only to learn, but to grow and to excel. If I care about being good at what I do, at achieving the highest standards and of being a leader in my industry, feedback on the areas where I am not yet operating at the right level is an absolute gift, as is feedback that tells me I am at the right level, but this is what I could do to go higher. It gives me something to work with. If I was being told I was brilliant every five minutes, how would that benefit me? How would I change, evolve or improve?
View negative feedback as a discrete entity. A little package of information that you can use to help you grow. Yes it feels uncomfortable to receive it – but I urge you to dance in the discomfort! Listen to my podcast episode on the Discomfort Zone and remind yourself that the anxiety you feel when you receive negative feedback is all part of the learning process – it’s integral to your success. You must grow to have a fulfilling and rewarding life – it’s a rule of nature. Negative feedback is the gift that will help you do that.
So take action now! Give thanks for any feedback you receive and process it without judgement until you extract the nugget of gold. Make a habit of seeking out feedback regularly. If it is not offered freely, make it your responsibility to chase it. Remind yourself that you have options for what you make it mean – and choose the meaning that serves you best.
Lastly, you must act on it. The value of feedback depends on your willingness to convert it into a bullet point action plan and your commitment to turn it to your advantage.
Need help with turning negative feedback to your advantage? I offer one-to-one coaching on Imposter Syndrome, and progressing your career while growing your family. For more information, get in touch here.