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You Can('t) Handle the Feedback!

We could all use some pro-tips on how to handle feedback! That’s because receiving feedback is as much of a skill as giving it. How you respond determines not only how others view you but, also, whether or not you’ll learn from it and improve. 

When you receive difficult feedback, do you…

  • Become defensive?

  • Interrupt?

  • Respond with, “But…?”

  • Shut down?

If so, people will likely give up on offering you feedback, or even empathy, leaving you to figure out your own errors (which we’re not very good at). Here, then, are 4 simple strategies to respond well: 

  1. Ask a Clarifying Question: One reason we become defensive is that we’ve received unclear feedback (e.g. “You’re not proactive enough”). If you’re getting defensive, ask a clarifying question (e.g. “Could you help me understand what you mean by not proactive enough?”) 

  1. ZIP IT!: To get into the right feedback mindset, use this tried-and-true NextArrow acronym to avoid constantly interrupting: Zoom In Person Is Talking (ZIP IT!). Saying "ZIP IT!" in our heads, allows us to redirect our attention away from ourselves (our self-awareness, fear, discomfort, anger) and toward the person speaking. Focus on being present and check for alignment.

  1. State Your Intention: Before responding to feedback with “But…,” make sure you’ve actually heard what was said. Do this by saying, “I heard you say xyz. Did I get that right?” Then, if you feel like you need to share additional information, state your intention by saying, “Can I provide some additional context? The reason I ask is that I’d like us to have a full picture of what happened so we can figure out how to prevent this in the future.” 

  1. Label Your Feelings: Shutting down can happen for a lot of reasons but, often, it’s because we feel flooded by emotions or completely caught off guard by surprise feedback. If you’re feeling flooded, use ‘Affect Labeling.’ Simply name the feelings you’re having as a way to regulate your emotions. To avoid surprise feedback, meanwhile, ask for feedback often. Even better, proactively share with the people you work with how you like to receive feedback. For example, you can request written feedback prior to a conversation so you have time to process the information before having to discuss it.  

Use these strategies and prove to the people in your life that you CAN handle the feedback!

* Note: There may be times that we receive feedback we don’t agree with (e.g. in the case of biased feedback). You can still use the techniques above to turn what could become a very defensive conversation into a genuine dialogue!

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