Handling the Sting of Harsh Feedback

FeedbackSomeone very close to me recently received some rather harsh feedback from a long-time friend, and she asked me what to do about it. When asked why she had been distant and seemingly avoidant over the past two years, her friend told her that she is an uncaring, self-centered person who doesn’t listen. She then provided some examples to illustrate her point.

It’s a shame her friend waited so long to give her this feedback, denying her the opportunity to change her behavior and improve their relationship. Getting feedback is an opportunity to learn how we are perceived by others. Most of us are well-intentioned and do not realize how we come across to others. Unfortunately we often do not communicate our intentions. Therefore we are judged by our behaviors (what other people see) and not by our intentions, which are kept to ourselves. Interestingly, we judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their behaviors.

Here’s what I suggested doing with the feedback:

1) Separate the behaviors (making the conversation all about her, doing more talking than listening, etc.) from the judgments about the behaviors (being an uncaring and self-centered person).

2) Focus on changing the behaviors. You can work on changing and improving your behavior. Your own behavior is something that you can control.

3) Ignore the judgments about the behaviors. The judgments are hurtful and not helpful. You can’t change other people’s assessments and opinions, so don’t bother trying.

If you receive harsh feedback given in the form of judgments (you are uncaring & self-centered), here’s what you can do in the moment: ask, “What behaviors have I demonstrated that cause you to say that I am (uncaring & self-centered)? Can you please give me some specific examples of what I have done?” Being told you are self-centered can mean many things, and you won’t know what to change if you don’t know what behaviors they are referring to. Shifting the focus from judgments to behaviors makes the feedback more helpful and less hurtful. You have the power to make that shift by asking for specific feedback about your behavior.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” – Bill Gates

“Cruelty is cheap, easy, and chicken-shit.” – Brene Brown

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