Received Negative Feedback? Here’s a Way to Process It.

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I had just moved into a marketing role at a tech company and I was immensely struggling with two aspects of feedback I had received from my new manager. First, I was told to lie about the data if it didn’t frame the results our team drove in a positive light. I struggled so much with that from an ethical perspective. And then he followed up by saying that if I wanted to be successful I would need to be more aggressive than what he was seeing.

So my initial reaction in the moment was shock to each of those. I was… I was actually stunned into silence and in part because I had just been praised for the results that my team had drove over the last couple months and also for the collaborative and transparent way that we did it. So I couldn’t help but wonder if my manager was actively trying to derail my career. Hours after receiving the feedback, I was biting my nails, my palms were sweaty, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, and later that night obviously I couldn’t sleep and so I just kind of tossed and turned and uh rather unsuccessfully tried to reflect on the feedback and and it was at that point that I realized my body was giving me signals that seemed worth paying attention to.

And I began asking myself kind of a series of why questions so, “Why is my jaw feeling so tight right now?” Well, my jaw is type because I felt like the feedback was an attack against my personal values. And from there I worked it into the feedback decision tree that I had created. You know if we take it from the top of the feedback decision tree, Do I trust the motives of the person who gave it to me? Initially I would have said no but through these insights from my body and the gentle investigation I realized yeah that I did, I did trust his motives. It might come across as warped, but he… I think he was trying to help my career by allowing me to succeed in this particularly psychologically unsafe culture that I was part of. I worked down through the decision tree, Does the feedback align with my personal values and professional goals? Absolutely not.

And I kept working down the tree, beginning to open up conversations with other trusted mentors and people throughout the organization. And this perspective was incredibly helpful because I was able to see and just get validation that no it didn’t come from an evil place, this feedback, but also no it wasn’t something that I should take. And for me that was such an important moment of understanding because it allowed me to let go of some anger and process things better.

So if you find yourself trying to process challenging feedback, I really recommend the process of tapping into your body, what it’s trying to express, gently asking yourself why questions about it and working the challenging feedback through a feedback decision tree – the one I created or your own. Take your time as you work through this process because you want to understand how you will incorporate the feedback or not but also how it aligns to where you want to go in your career.

Feedback Resources Before You Go

[Video] How to define feedback

[PDF] Feedback terms to know