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Receiving feedback with curiosity 
Have you been in a meeting and then someone says to you "Can I give you some feedback?" What happens? Does your heart race and do you feel terrible and start wondering what did you do wrong?
This is a typical reaction, although many of us know how to cover it. We pretend we are busy or we just reply "of course", and just wait for the guillotine to fall and be decapitated, because we have "learned" that feedback is good for us, and we must listen to all of it, otherwise we'll be a failure!
Now, we all know that many times feedback is sometimes just criticism disguised as constructive comments. And boy, does it hurt! We take it personally and we feel angry, we feel we were treated unfairly or that we were misunderstood. Sometimes, if the feedback has been given in a constructive way, we may be able to see how we can learn from it, but still usually we crucify ourselves up for not doing a perfect job or making a mistake.
Why is this?
Well first of all, we tend to take feedback or criticism personally. We think that if someone has a negative opinion of something we have done, they will think that of us as a person. We take the comment completely out of context and make it mean "we are not good enough or that we are a failure". And we start a negative cycle of self-criticism to make sure we don't do " that below standard performance" again, what can happen is that we develop a fear of doing the activity ever again, in case we do it badly again. Strangely enough, we avoid it, when we should be encouraging ourselves to try it again so we can practice and get better at it with all the additional feedback we have received.
Sometimes this person is just confirming what we think of ourselves. Think about it, if someone called you a purple elephant, who you believe them? It doesn't matter how much venom they had, you'd probably think they were crazy. However if they said you were not very good, that part of us that constantly criticizes us, would jump in, and say how did they know? They are right, I'm just a failure. Ok I may be exaggerating a little to make the point.
Also, depending on who is giving us the feedback we take it as the truth. There is no such thing as a universal truth, we all have our own versions of the truth based on our experience, values, beliefs and priorities. This person who is giving you feedback may have a lot of experience, and may have something meaningful to share. However, it does not mean that whatever the person is saying is the truth. They are telling you their opinion from their perspective, their experience, their priorities and their beliefs. And it is your job to evaluate what is being said and learn from it in a constructive way.
Another reason why we don't like feedback is because we fear they will reject us or judge us. The person is giving us the feedback because they think we are not good enough, or they don't like us or they think we are a failure.  Now, all of it could be true, they may think that and unfortunately we can't control their opinion, a fact that we often forget.
However, isn't true that you are more than whatever you were given feedback on? Tip: If you receive the feedback just as an opinion on something you did, instead of on who you are, you can deal with it differently. Can't you?
Sometimes, unfortunately the feedback is just toxic. People give you criticism in a very insulting and threatening manner. They say things such as you are useless, you are incompetent in an aggressive manner etc. Guess what, they have provided you feedback on something you have done and generalized to identity level. So instead of believing them, it may be more useful to become curious about how they arrived to that conclusion, what specific behaviours did you do in order for them to create that opinion, regardless if it is true or not.

Some helpful questions to detoxify negative criticism are:

  • How specifically do I behave like an (incompetent)?
  • What skills do I need to improve?
  • What do you suggest could be done better?
  • Was there anything good in the report ( whatever was done)? 

What happens is that when we experience these negative emotions and fears, we don't notice the gift that we are receiving. We are receiving the opportunity to see ourselves from somebody else's perspective. It is not the truth, but it is additional information that could help us in our self development. It is just more information about ourselves. If we become defensive, and try to convince give them reasons and excuses about why it wasn't good enough, we miss the opportunity to learn about ourselves. 

So for example if someone says: The presentation you did was not very good. Instead of thinking I'm a bad presenter, I'll never be good. See the feedback as a gift. Recognise that this was one presentation, it may not have gone well, but it can go better next time.  Wonder and ask curiously, so what specifically do you think I could do better? What was good about it? Find out the details and ask for recommendations of doing it better. Instead of taking the comments at identity level (i.e. I AM a bad presenter) take it at capability level (ie This is one of the many things I do, it can be improved and I am learning how to improve it). 

So, what would it be like if instead of taking feedback personally and being defensive, you were curious about their comments and opinions, and how to learn from them?

How will your world be different?


 "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."


MaryAnne Williamson


I find this quote really thought provoking. Are we afraid of our inadequacies as a leader, manager or employee? Or are we afraid of being too succesful?

I was teaching a workshop in building self confidence and one of the exercises was for them to acknowledge their strengths to each other. At the end I asked for feedback, and they said they were embarrased. Isn't it interesting that we are embarrased by acknowledging what's good in us, but feel comfortable criticizing ourselves?

Food for thought...

In the mean time if you'd like more information about our Building self confidence workshop, Leading with Purpose or Improving Communication at Work, please contact me on 0845 355 1159


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