How negative feedback can help you succeed

The ability to assimilate critical feedback is essential to reach your potential

We high-achieving successful people have an interesting relationship with feedback. We crave positive feedback. The affirmation of our magnificence is almost as crucial to our survival as the air we breathe. On the flip side, feedback that is "constructive" or "developmental" is something different altogether.

Recently, I experienced dichotomy first hand. I got some feedback about my participation and performance at a workshop that wasn't so positive. As I listened to what was said I felt warm at the back of my neck. My arms were tightening. I could feel a surge of something rising in my chest.

The words stung. I could feel my body responding chemically, neurologically and physically in the same way it might if I were under attack. In response to the negative feedback, my body was preparing for a fight.

Thankfully though, I am not just a body. I am also a brain. Specifically, a brain that I actively train for awareness and discernment.

While my natural physical responses were heading down the path of fear toward defensiveness, my brain's engagement, and the application of its training diffused my experience.

Rather than fight, I was able to really listen to the feedback. I took it in. I was able to recognize and understand the perspective from which the observations about me and my performance were made. I was able to discern that what I was feeling was disappointment around not having performed at my typical level.

Most important though, using my brain, I was able to decide how I wanted to feel about the information that was delivered, and to decide what I was going to do about it. That made all the difference.

For so many of us, though, and in far too many situations, our response to any feedback that's not praise is to shut down or push back. 

Despite our often overtly stated desire to continue to learn, grow and improve. Many of us struggle just to hear critical feedback, to say nothing of actually listening to and taking it on. As a result we shut ourselves off from all that we want including greater achievement, success, recognition, reward, and happiness.

Yes, it hurts when people tell us that their experience of our skills, our ideas, our work product or even our demeanor is less than perfect. It is shocking for someone to rate our performance as mediocre or short of top-notch. It can diminish our feeling of worth as professionals, even as people. At times, it's nearly debilitating.

So we deflect. We retreat. We defend. And if we're not careful, we get stuck, hurting ourselves more than the feedback itself was meant to.

The ability to receive and assimilate critical feedback is essential for success and fulfillment. Feedback is not a foe to be fought off. In fact it is unmatched in terms of what it can show and teach us on our path to success and fulfillment. But if we crumble in a pile of emotion and defensiveness in the face of it we distance ourselves from its value.

Thankfully, all of us have the resources and the capacity to ensure that our success shall not be made or broken solely based on our physical or emotional responses to feedback. Each of us is a system capable of sensing, evaluating and acting on many levels:  intuitive, emotional, physical, and mental. Just like in an effective, high functioning organization it takes ALL roles and levels to create success.

This active engagement in response to and incorporation of feedback is a practice. It is consciously developed and honed as a part of a broader endeavor to deliberately create success. It is a focused training effort the outcome of which will open up what would otherwise be closed off.

So don't fear negative feedback! Welcome it. Challenge yourself to understand it. Let your ego step aside and allow feedback to show you the way to your greatest potential performance, your true success, and your full happiness.

Categories: Business Insights, Human Resources