You hear the word “feedback” and your mind may go right to the most recent time you felt your stomach sink as you received some difficult information. Feedback comes in all packages. Some delivered gently, softened by positivity, and other times it is delivered like a hammer coming down on a nail leaving us feeling flat and small. I believe most would agree that receiving feedback or constructive criticism is always uncomfortable. No matter how it is delivered, it can be difficult to receive. The good news is that how one moves past feedback is very much in the responsibility of the receiver.

Identity

In the workplace, difficult feedback related to job performance is hard to hear because it is often where we invest the most hours of our week. It is no surprise that we feel a sense of uneasiness when our work quality is brought into question or challenged to improve. Additionally, when work is the primary source for our sense of identity, we can find ourselves particularly unsettled and discouraged by difficult feedback. When processing difficult feedback, take a moment to remember other parts of your identity, other roles you hold, and different outlets of meaning in your life. Identity is complex and when simplified to one isolated area of life, humans often struggle to make sense of setbacks and criticism. Human value is much more complex than the work one puts their hands to on a weekly basis. Remember the other parts of yourself that feed your identity, be that your familial roles, spiritual beliefs, core values, or community engagement. Feedback is something to be observed and considered to impact our action moving forward, but it can never speak to the entirety of our personhood.

Clarity

            You may find yourself doing more sweating than thinking when seated with your boss for a performance review or feedback conversation. Give attention to how you feel when in those arenas. If significantly anxious, take some time to reflect after the meeting. What questions do you have? What areas would you like clarity? Take time to write down your thoughts and request a follow-up with the person who delivered the feedback. When we feel overly anxious, we cannot trust our thinking brain to capture all the information accurately. Give yourself the opportunity to best understand what is being asked of you and to ask questions on anything that seems fuzzy or unclear.

Engagement

            Feedback can stir up all kinds of emotions from shame to anger. It is easy to want to slink away from the working relationships that have delivered tough feedback. Often this only makes things worse and is seldom helpful. Just as it is not comfortable to receive feedback, it is also often difficult to deliver. Finding ways to engage a colleague both professionally and personally can continue to add to the diverse array of experiences that you have in the relationship beyond just the hard conversations.

My hope is that acknowledging your complex identities, seeking clarity when needed, and engaging your work relationships will help you better work with feedback rather than against it. We largely cannot control how feedback is delivered, but we can lean on our own abilities to lead ourselves through it and into a new realm of growth. Ultimately, it is up to the receiver to apply the feedback towards helpful and growth producing application.