The other day I was talking to a colleague about how devastated I was after reading negative comments on my recent session for female leaders. I must first tell you that the majority of comments on the feedback form were extremely positive, and most attendees found the session to be engaging and valuable.  When I showed the comments to my colleague, who was also a part of the session, she looked at me with surprise and said:

“Wow, that’s harsh. I sure didn’t experience that!”

She went on to say:

“This is just one person’s viewpoint and albeit, their truth.  My perception of the session is totally different! And for me, how I experienced your session is my truth! And your experience of delivering the session is your perception and your truth! None of these vantage points are THE TRUTH, so there is no gain for you to take this feedback personally.”

So, I ask myself and I am asking you today – why does one negative feedback comment trump many other positive ones? Why is it my default reaction to give all my attention to negative comments and even go so far as to take them personally? And why do I tend to feel attacked and spend way too much time in defensive mode, justifying why I do what I do in my sessions. Why do I choose to be humiliated by this?

First, it is important to realize that this type of reaction is not unique to me. Research done by G. Kartini Shastry, Olga Shurchkov, and Lingjun “Lotus” Xia found that women react differently to feedback than men. Their study found that women repeatedly internalize negative feedback in ways that were detrimental to their self-image and success.

The problem with this “go-to” reaction many women experience is that it is “fear-based” and it sets off a myriad of chemical and hormonal reactions. The latest brain science tells us that this primitive triggered reaction, and the accompanying stress hormones (Cortisol) released in our system, shuts down the executive part of our brain so that we can be focused on protecting ourselves from this feedback as if it were an attack by a saber tooth tiger.

With our executive brain shut down, we no longer have access to our higher-order thinking – such as insight, foresight, creativity, wisdom, empathy, problem-solving and strategy. This renders us unable to hear, let alone “let in” any feedback, especially when we don’t think it is particularly true.

The dilemma here is that without feedback, it is hard to improve. But for feedback to be effective the receiver must be open and curious about the feedback. They must be able to “let it in”, and find even just the 2% truth so that it can be used to learn what we can do differently. In order to co-opt this often-times maladaptive response that fear of feedback generates in us, we must adjust our mindset.

What is your mindset about feedback?

How do you respond to feedback?

1. Are you quick to justify, instead of listening with curiosity and asking for clarity?
2. Do you dismiss the feedback by judging the giver of feedback as not worth listening to?
3. Does the mere suggestion of feedback cause you to mentally disengage because it is just too upsetting to hear it?

Did you answer yes to any of these? If so, I am guessing that the feedback conversation triggers you and it’s time to adjust your mindset.

Here are several ways to help you improve receiving feedback. They will assist you in  avoiding hardwired fear response or at least shorten the time you spend “out of your executive brain”.

1. Feedback is just someone’s opinion. It is not THE TRUTH but merely the other person’s point of view.
2. Feedback is a gift. As with any gift, it is up to you whether you accept it or not. Sometimes it is unwanted or uncalled for and it is your choice to ignore it.
3. The 2% rule – There is almost always 2% truth in everything. Even in the harshest and uncalled for comments, there can be a kernel of truth. Itis up to you to look for and learn from that 2% truth.

Now with these mindset adjustments, see if you can welcome feedback as a gift.

Unwrap it with curiosity and appreciation because likely the person giving it to you cares enough about you to take the risk and time that giving feedback entails.

And if you can’t find at least the 2% truth that makes it a gift, then it’s your prerogative to ignore it.

Carol Henry, Carol Henry Coaching


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