Feedback is a positive thing. It helps us identify ways we can improve our personal and professional lives, and yet we dread the idea of receiving any form of criticism. Why? According to a New York Times piece, “Why It’s So Hard to Hear Negative Feedback,” it’s all about how we think — and feel — about it.
We have trouble swallowing negative feedback because we have a physiological response to it — we feel tense, our breathing becomes shallower, and we limit the information that is let into our brains, even though the critique is meant to help us, according to a TED podcast, “WorkLife with Adam Grant,” referred to in the Times story by Tim Herrera. Adjusting this response is not just a matter of reframing how we receive negative feedback, but also how we deliver it when the tables are turned. “The solution to this problem on both sides — whether you’re receiving the feedback or giving it — boils down to trusting that everyone is participating in good faith,” Herrera writes.
Approaching negative feedback as an opportunity to learn, rather than just another anxiety-inducer, makes all the difference when it comes to, say, making it through a yearly review — whether you’re the boss or the employee. This new way of thinking allows us to not only take criticism with a smile, but genuinely desire more feedback in the future for further growth. “When you’re delivering negative feedback, do so honestly and openly, and frame the conversation as a difficult-yet-necessary means to an end of improving the receiver’s performance (and mean it!),” Herrera writes.
If you’re on the receiving end, don’t shut down as soon as you hear something you don’t like. Instead, think of it as your first step toward self-improvement. “Even if you’re given a C for performance, Herrera writes, “you can still earn an A for improvement.”