Workplace Success Tips: 5 Ways to Bounce Back When Feedback Hurts

Photo of Dr. Shanita Williams, Assistant Vice President, Learning and Development​

Have you ever received feedback that hurt? Did it hurt so badly that you began to cry or even feel depressed? If so, you're not alone. I conducted a survey on this very question, and 70% of the respondents said that they had found themselves depressed or teary-eyed, all at the hands of feedback.

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When you feel negatively triggered by the feedback you are receiving, you may be operating in your emotional brain and rightfully so. Feedback can hurt, and it is sensed by our emotional (limbic) brain. The emotional brain houses our flight or fight response and the blood rushes from our brains to our largest muscles in the body to prepare to defend yourself (verbal fight or get out of the room). In essence, your logical brain is offline, so you are operating solely within your emotions. The key is to try to engage your logical brain so that you can use both your logic and emotion to fully understand what the sender is trying to say.

5 Ways to Engage Logic in Response

But let's be honest, some people are unskilled at giving feedback. Some people deliver it at the worst time, worst place, and in the worst way and it can change the way you feel about yourself as a human being, either temporarily or in some cases permanently. The reality is, we cannot change when, where, and how others deliver feedback. We can only focus on building our skills so that we can become exceptional receivers! No matter who is giving you the feedback (staff, peers, instructor, manager, family, friends, teammates, church members, strangers, etc.), use these five tips to help you engage your logical brain to better navigate the conversation and the flood of emotions that may come with it.

  • Take notes. I know this sounds silly, but take notes while the sender is speaking. When you do, you're getting your logical brain and the functions of analyzing, critical thinking, organizing and planning back online. In some instances, you may find it beneficial to unlock eyes with the sender as it may keep you in your emotional brain. Taking the time to write down what you are hearing will help you when you reflect on the feedback later. Sometimes the emotions are too high, or the feedback is too painful, that you may be focused too much on the pain than what's being said. Engaging in writing or typing will help balance the logical and emotional brain and ensure you are capturing the information you need to reflect or act upon later.
  • Ask clarifying questions. This helps you also engage your logical brain by getting more information to the logical brain to begin to make sense of what the sender is trying to say. If you do not ask clarifying questions, your brain may begin to make up stories about what they are saying and why they are saying it, which can make you more upset. It's also important to note that this is about seeking to understand, not seeking to be understood. Ask questions to understand their perspective, what they saw and what they believe the impact is so that you have a better understanding of their point of view. The goal is to ask clarifying questions, not questions that challenge them, there is a difference. If you attempt to be challenging, your emotional brain may engage in the fight or flight response versus a response that fosters mutual understanding.
  • Get the sender to share solutions. It can be painful to listen to feedback if it is not constructive. To make it constructive, engage in the 80% solutions and 20% problems discussion. Try to get your sender to share their ideas on what you could have done differently, suggestions for the future, how to build skills etc. If you focus too much on reliving the problem or the negative aspect of your performance without solutions, you run the risk of feeling negatively, and the fight or flight may become priority again. If 80% of the conversation is focused on solutions, your outlook and confidence that you can improve the behavior increases.
  • Thank them for the feedback. Remember, people are not required to give you feedback, so it probably took a lot of guts for the sender to do so. Once the meeting is over, send a follow-up email or note to thank them for their honesty and candor. It helps you close out your thoughts, especially if you were reeling from the feedback, and give you some closure and even peace. This also tells your brain, you are done with it and can begin the process of next steps. Forbes published an article stating that thank you notes are a good habit to have as it is a form of gratitude. Gratitude is good for the brain. It can reduce stress and increase your feeling of well-being!
  • Use the Strainer Calculator: Lastly, you want to be sure you're not being a sponge and are focused on utilizing the strainer mentality. Use the Strainer Calculator to see if you want prioritize this feedback or let it go through the strainer.

Dr. Shanita Williams has been working in the learning and development space for over 10 years. She has extensive experience in designing learning solutions that facilitate employee development at all organizational levels. She is currently the assistant vice president of Learning and Development for SNHU College of Online and Continuing Education. In her role, she works as a strategic thought partner to five business units and delivers high-impact learning programs to nearly 1,300 employees and 150 managers. Her area of expertise includes: Emotional Intelligence (EQ), DiSC, Limiting Beliefs, Change Management, Coaching, and Feedback. Shanita earned her Doctorate in Educational Leadership, where her research focused on the lived experiences of working mothers as students. She is the CEO of Momploydent, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is committed to helping working mothers excel academically.

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