Sweaty palms, short-breathed, funny feeling in the stomach. All these are symptoms that came up when you were expecting your grades or results to come out. 

Years later, most adults still confront these uneasy feelings frequently. Except that this time, instead of a report card, it’s feedback you are waiting to receive––at the workplace. It’s an all-consuming feeling that can take over your mood for the day or even the week. 

Now, given that feedback is such a constant feature of our professional lives, why do we get so uneasy and put off at the thought of it?

Please note that these feelings only come up in the face of negative feedback. Accepting praise and kudos for your work may be awkward at times, but it’s definitely not stress-inducing. 

Well, psychology teaches us that humans just hate being wrong, and even more so being told that we were wrong. We all want to feel accepted, valued and appreciated. Any negative feedback seems like the opposite of all of those feelings.

In our professional lives, we tend to associate our work as a part of our identity. This is why negative feedback on your marketing presentation or your new product design, hurts your ego. It almost feels like a personal attack.

To make this exercise a little less daunting you can try the strategies below. Obviously, your mindset towards feedback won’t change overnight. This is years of conditioning, so it will take time. But you need to start somewhere and start now.

1. Depersonalize: Always remember that feedback is specifically for work or tasks you did. It does not relate to your complete identity and capabilities. Depersonalizing will eliminate the ego from the equation and save you from the feeling of being hurt or personally attacked.

2. Listen and then probe: A golden rule for receiving feedback is to first listen without interrupting. You can then ask questions to get more clarity or understand better. Remember to frame the question in a way that signals your desire to improve, instead of sounding accusatory.  So, for instance, instead of “Your feedback on my communication skills doesn’t make sense, can you explain it further” try “I want to excel in my communication skills, so can you explain the feedback about those in detail.”

3. Defer your defense: There can be times when you don’t agree with the feedback. But instantly rushing to refute it will make you seem defensive and resistant to criticism. So first, just listen without interrupting.

4. Assume the best intent: Come to the table thinking the person giving you feedback has your best interests in mind. If you presume malintent, you will never be able to look forward or be open to feedback.

5. Shed the sulk: People often tend to shut down and become sullen after hearing criticism. It's visible in their body language and facial expressions. Be self-aware and avoid this, as it severely weakens your professional image.

Here’s hoping that your next feedback session will feel less like the day you got your exam results!

Saumya is a Specialist in the Curriculum Team at Harappa Education. She is a pistol shooter and a devoted snacker who loves finding simple ways to express complex ideas.

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