When to Take Negative Feedback and When to Leave It

Negative feedback is hard to take. 

In nature, or mechanics, "negative" feedback is designed to equalise.  A thermostat will turn off the heat when it reaches a certain temperature. Photosynthesis in plants which will speed up with increased levels of carbon dioxide.  It keeps things in balance.

For us, it tends to cause a shutdown.  We feel small, unworthy. It throws us off balance.

How we receive feedback depends on how it is given, and what we already believe about ourselves that might get in the way of receiving it constructively.  Easy, right?  Not usually. 

Giving and Receiving Feedback:


If the feedback is given in a genuine, empathetic, respectful way, it's much easier to take on board.

But there are really only a few people that are naturally very good at giving feedback this way or that have taken the time to teach themselves to be.  Most people didn't get the opportunity to learn. 


In addition to delivery, how we hear it, or what we hear, depends very much on our history, conditioning and temperament or personality.  

If you've experienced speech and/or behaviour that’s controlling, punishing, manipulative or derogatory such as withholding love, passive-aggressive behaviour or controlling speech and/or behaviour, it's hard to trust that the feedback you're being given doesn't say something about your core worth as a person - even if it is delivered compassionately.

If you're energetically sensitive, feedback is harder to take on board.  Sensitive people often get caught up in the underlying emotions of the person giving the feedback, which is confusing. 

Beyond those things, we all have filters.  We all have things we can't hear or that make it difficult for us to hear what is being said - because we are operating from a filter of what we think it means.  For example, if I believe I'll never perform as highly as a man in the same job because I've received messaging about my worth as a woman, I will hear the feedback (subconsciously) through that filter, even if it has nothing to do with what's actually being said.

What if it's not delivered genuinely or empathetically? 

Often, it's not.  When people are angry (or afraid of confrontation) they can't deliver feedback well.

And sometimes it's hard to figure out whether we can try to get past the tone or delivery to the person underneath or whether we should even bother with trying to hear what they've said.

Someone might tell us aggressively (or passively-aggressively) that we're not worthy, that we're stupid, or that we don't deserve their time.

None of that is true.  It also might not be what they said but is instead what we heard.

So we have to stand in our own truth.  By being impeccably honest with ourselves.  By being able to hear what's uncomfortable when necessary but also letting other people's stuff be their stuff.

This is never easy.  Here are a few questions to help. 

1. Is there anything in ourselves getting in the way of hearing the message? (besides their tone or delivery)
2. Is this person actually acting in the way you've perceived?  Or because we are angry or upset too have we painted a different picture?
3. Are they operating from their own filters and triggers? (always).  If so, try your best to have empathy and compassion for them.  Clearly, they're struggling too.  But extend the same amount of empathy and compassion to yourself by ensuring you stand in your own story and that you back yourself. 

Trolls. A quick word. People that troll the Internet looking for places to spread venom  are hurting.  They deserve love and forgiveness as much as anyone else.  They also don't warrant any unnecessary space in our minds or energy expended.

Here are a few coping strategies to deal with feedback in your life. 

Coping Strategies:

1. Keep learning.  Figure out what makes you tick and what's getting in your way of receiving helpful feedback.
2. Observe and acknowledge the belief systems you may have taken on board with previous feedback and associated filters through which you see the world.  Are they helping you or hurting you?
3. Observe when you're being triggered and try to acknowledge what that's about.
4. Stand in what's true for you.  Be honest and be brave - both about the greatness of who you truly are, and what's standing in the way of that.

If you need help with any of this, please feel free to get in touch.

If you'd like to read more, I recommend Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. (I don't receive any affiliate payback for this. I don't even know how. I'm just recommending it because I think it's great)

Photo Credit: Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash