HOW TO ACCEPT DIFFICULT FEEDBACK
“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
This past week was challenging because I seemed to have attracted a lot of attention from others. For some reason, my friends, parents, and relatives all offered me feedback and advice on what I should be doing with my life, how I should be, or how I could grow. This advice ranged from how to improve my health after my recent prolonged illness, to judgments on the speaking career I’m pursuing as being insufficient according to their standards of success, and even insisting that I get married soon because it will make me “happier”.
In one of these instances, I received feedback from someone I had met recently and didn’t know too well. The feedback had to do with my public speaking in an informal context; so day-to-day conversations. She said that I should watch the overuse of filler words I am using, speak more articulately, and that my tone of voice doesn’t come across as genuine.
In my journey, I’ve learned that only a few people offer you their feedback and it is only because they care. But it is still up to you as to how you take it.
In the past, when I would receive feedback, I often used to react. I would often analyze and evaluate the quality of the feedback, judge the person as to their competency or right to give it to me, and feel my ego being hurt by the evaluation. This would lead to my mind latching on to the experience and rehashing it over and over as to how the person could have said or approached it differently. I would also typically respond to feedback by becoming defensive and justify the way I approached the situation.
Going to law school and specializing in conflict resolution has helped me develop a new approach to how I receive feedback and what I do with it. Here are the steps I now follow when receiving feedback:
1. Do not react
When I heard the feedback on my conversational speaking skills, I made sure I listened to it, took a deep breath, and accepted what and how the person said it. I let the reactionary thoughts cross my mind, but didn’t speak them immediately. I just kept focusing on breathing, maintaining a respectful tone, and not allowing things to boil within me and come out as reactionary anger.
2. Look at the feedback…together
Accepting feedback for me means not letting it sink in and permeate my mind, but rather, holding it in the space between us. Her feedback then almost became like an imaginary cup that she placed on the table between us, which we are then both able to look at it and see it for what it really is. I asked questions about her feedback to clarify it, we spoke about it to understand each other, and she explained herself to help me appreciate the intention behind it.
Words often create misunderstandings. They may come across as judgmental, but if we in turn judge the words of feedback, then we too are not trying to create understanding.
3. Be open to find solutions
The filler words I was using too often to show that I agreed with what someone was saying were “For sure”. By talking about solutions following the feedback, I was able to consciously make efforts to replace this habit with other words such as “I agree”, or “definitely”, or “certainly”. This is an example she gave me of how I could use better words to sound more articulate. Reaching a solution felt productive, and I realize that it is only possible by creating space to accept feedback and trying to understand it.
4. Ignore the harsh judgments
Sometimes people who care about us think they’re giving us feedback, but they are actually just judging us. For me, feedback comes with an intention to help me improve, speak and listen openly, and to work me to find a solution I am willing to take steps towards in order to grow. Judgment on the other hand is based solely on the perception of the judger, without any effort to understand you. When my new friend told me that my tone of voice was not genuine, it was delivered with harsh words, there was no offer to help me work on it, and it was a quick opinion given that she hasn’t known me for very long.
When someone judges you, they can’t understand you. When someone can’t understand you, they can’t love you.
Feedback comes from a place of love. It is an offering to help someone improve, but it is also an offering to be a part of the process of improvement. I’ve come to see feedback as a great part of my journey to grow in life. But there are still times I am judged. In these times, I remind myself to accept it, that it is perception that is happening within them, and I do not have to react to it. At the end of the day, I can accept all things offered to me in my journey, but it I still have the ability to choose the parts that are most useful towards helping me grow.