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How to Handle Feedback

Responding to feedback | how to handle feedback

If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear. ~ Roberto Bolaño

When you continue to stretch your boundaries, try new things, and morph yourself into the person you want to be, you’re going to draw more attention than the average Joe. And with that attention comes opinions…lots and lots of opinions.

Working hard to change your body, your mind, your spirit or even your bank account will generate feedback whether you ask for it or not. It will often not be what you want to hear, and today we’re going to talk about how make it work for you.

Smart people learn from feedback; smarter people learn to filter it first.

The wrong way to deal with feedback

Those suckers who have the nerve to question your expertise deserve the harsh tirade they get. I mean, how dare they? They aren’t doing all the hard work you are, and they know piss-all about what’s what. In fact, you can’t even remember why you ever let this caveman in your life in the first place. Un-friend, asshole. Take that!

(Warren hates it when I un-friend him.)

Am I the only one who has that instant reaction? If I am, you can stop reading. I’m obviously way more damaged than you. But if you also have an instant reaction to lash out, proclaim your innocence/expertise, and defend yourself against doubters and detractors alike, then this information is for you.

Why we lash out

We lash out from insecurity, from the fear that someone has seen through our charade and knows we are not confident in our message or effort. They are shining a light on something not quite right, still in progress, or otherwise squishy. It’s like trying on a bathing suit in a dressing room and suddenly having the door flung open and cameras aimed at you as you stand in a 3-way mirror.

Or maybe I’m just being dramatic.

It’s so much easier to turn our insecurity, discomfort, and lack of confidence around on the other person. Why put all that energy toward fixing our own problems when we can just blame the messenger?

If you doubt what I’m saying, think about the last time you got negative feedback on something you know you’re good at or something that isn’t even true. It just rolls off, doesn’t it?

When someone gives you negative feedback that stings of the truth, even slightly, you do whatever you can to convince him he’s wrong so you can convince yourself he’s wrong.

Where feedback comes from

When we opened up our lives in 2008 to document the planning and execution of our big dream to travel the world, we weren’t prepared for some of the feedback we got:

  • This is really irresponsible.
  • You must not care much about your family and friends.
  • Your career is never going to recover from this.
  • You must hate your life.
  • It’s too dangerous out there.

The use of charged phrases like “abandoning your family” and “running away” would cause even the most determined person to question their motives.

First, a truth about feedback (positive and negative): We are all selfish creatures, and we take in all news with our own lives in mind. Our internal radios are always tuned to WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?).

We hear a bit of news and our first reaction is created from our own values, experiences, strengths, and insecurities.

When you realize that everyone’s mind works this way, including your own, it frees you up to view both positive and negative feedback in a different way (and to perform a bit of self-therapy when you react to other peoples’ news!).

Someone who has experience in what you are doing will be able to give you excellent feedback, even if it is tainted with their own feelings. A mentor, teacher, or peer has a better understanding of the pros and cons of what you are doing and what it takes to improve. Someone on the sidelines is more likely to focus on their feelings or fears about it because they have no other point of reference.

We had far different responses to our decision in 2008 from the long-term travelers we met than from those who didn’t even own a passport. Guess which ones we paid attention to?

All Feedback is Not Equal

All negative feedback isn’t necessarily bad. We need constructive criticism to make our projects better and to evolve as human beings. We aren’t born knowing it all, and thanks to helpful feedback from mentors, teachers, and peers, we don’t have to learn everything through experience.

Unfortunately this excellent feedback is easily overwhelmed with the crap from everyone else, from the bland “great job!” comments to the occasional “you suck!” ones. Neither of these do a thing to help you along your path to being a better person, though ironically these two are the easiest to believe of all the feedback you’ll get.

So how do you get to the good stuff, the squishy middle ground between “awesome!” and “terrible!” that is actually helpful for you?

You’ve gotta get a filter.

Create a Feedback Filter

Armed with this information, it becomes easier to set up a filter for the positive and negative feedback you receive. (It is just as dangerous to live in a bubble of “you go, girl!” as it is to live in a constant stream of put-downs.)

Do what the famous athletes, writers, actors and musicians do: Don’t read your own press, positive or negative. It only serves to artificially inflate or deflate your ego and has no bearing on your actual skill level or performance.

Your raving fans will love everything you do, and your haters will still find a flaw if you bring about world peace or find a cure for the common cold.

Instead, actively request for feedback from trusted sources. Ask yourself:

  1. Does this person have my best interests at heart?
  2. Can I trust them to give me bad news as much as good?
  3. Does this person have experience in what I want to do?

Find the sources who mean something to you and listen when they speak. Your mentors, teachers, peers, and even competitors can help you become better at whatever you are trying to do. Tune out the background noise from the people on the sidelines who have no investment in your success or failure so you can hear the experts speak.

You’ll never please everyone, but if you continue to evaluate your performance and put forth your best effort it won’t matter what everyone else thinks. You’ve already won over your toughest critic.

Now get out there and do great things. People need something to talk about. 

Peer pressure exists whether you are 17 or 57. Learn how to speak up, go against the grain when necessary, and feel confident enough to live the life you want in Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident. Learn more here.

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