I don’t like receiving feedback.
But… As an engineering manager I give people feedback all the time. I preach the gospel of feedback every day.
That doesn’t mean that I like it when feedback happens to me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have an emotional reaction. Or that I don’t feel called out or suddenly vulnerable. Or that I always handle it as gracefully as I’d like.
What’s tough about feedback is that it targets what we are most invested in—ourselves—and for a brief moment it’s brutally clear how someone else sees us, and how it’s different than how we see ourselves and want to be seen. It feels uncomfortable. It feels personal. This is especially true for someone who cares deeply about their work and identifies strongly with it. Humans are not generally wired well to handle feedback gracefully.
But… feedback is important. There’s no way to know if you’re managing to keep your car on the road without the feedback of where the yellow lines are relative to you.
It’s best not to think of feedback as a mechanism for criticism, but as a mechanism of alignment and improvement and adjustment. Feedback is an opportunity to grow. Approach it with a growth mindset. You are receiving useful information that you would have not otherwise received. Deploy it to your benefit.
This is true even if you disagree with it, even if it is wrong, and even if it is rude or ill-intentioned! Any feedback is still a signal to how you are perceived, and new insight into the other person’s perspective. It always contains information.
I am coming to believe that a major differentiator between the good and the great is the ability to face brutal facts and see the world—and ourselves—as it is, and not how we wish it to be, all while maintaining an emotional equilibrium.
Our emotional reactions are often counterproductive to our ability to act and achieve in our own self interest. Feedback feels like an attack, so it’s natural to want to attack back, or withdraw inside ourselves. Neither of those are useful. It’s okay to be frustrated and okay to be angry. But take a breath, focus on your heart rate, and try to at least act calm and receive the feedback gracefully. Don’t push back, don’t be defensive. True calm will return, and then you can act.
- Look at feedback as information, and as a mechanism for alignment and improvement. It is information that can be usefully deployed.
- Separate the emotional content of the feedback, and your emotional response from the informational content, even if it hurts, and even if you disagree.
- Act calm, become calm, act and grow.