How To Take Negative Feedback Well

Published by Klint Ciriaco on

It hurts to get painful feedback. Why? Probably because of the following: 

  • We’re not used to it. 
  • We interpret it as an attack on our identity.
  • Our ego protects us from discomfort. 

If there’s anything I’ve learned about learning and skill development in the past year, those discomforts are necessary for growth. They’re like medicine to ailments.  

Even so, it’s in our nature to avoid pain, right? We would rather shield ourselves from taking a bitter pill than be “cured.” 

One way to deal with this dilemma is by figuring out the purpose of the person giving the feedback. They’re most likely giving you feedback with good intentions. 

For example, when I started coaching in CrossFit, my boss observed me as I ran my classes. Afterwards, we would chat for about 10 minutes about my performance. 

Getting a list of all the things I did wrong triggered some strong emotional responses. My initial thought was, “I’m not good enough.” 

To give you an idea why, CrossFit classes aren’t just like normal gym sessions. The members pay $135 per month (some gyms charge more). Since they pay a premium, coaches strive to do the following:  

  • Provide premium quality coaching.
  • Bring out the best in them.
  • Make their session the best hour of their day.

My best at that point wasn’t good enough. But my boss chose me for a reason. He believed in me. The feedback he gave were catalysts so I could develop myself into the best trainer I could be. So, my bitterness from getting feedback turned into appreciation. 

Also, the result of getting feedback is high-performance. Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater, one of the largest hedge fund managers in the world, adapts a principle called radical transparency. Here’s an excerpt from their site:

“Bridgewater’s competitive edge is our pioneering workplace culture that relies on truthful and transparent communication to ensure the best ideas win out. 

We believe meaningful work and meaningful relationships emerge when you assemble high-performing teams and push them to engage in rigorous and thoughtful inquiry.”

They have a culture of feedback. Dalio started with nothing in his apartment, but grew his company to over $15B in assets. The results are self-evident. 

That said, it’s best to get feedback often. That way, you get used to getting them. But, its real value lies in this: the unearthing of your weaknesses. The more weaknesses you become aware of, the greater the opportunity to improve.

We have blind spots. Even if we are aware of our weaknesses, we don’t have an accurate assessment of some, if not, most of them. So, even if learning about our inadequacies is painful, the sweet after taste of improvements makes it worth learning about them.