Imagine your boss calls you into their office so you can hear the results of your performance or 360 degree review. If your first response is to get angry, stop for a minute and think about the advice you’re being given.

Can you honestly think of some instances in which you may have displayed this behavior? Fear of criticism is a common but avoidable reaction. Learning to overcome your inhibitions will enable you to see constructive feedback as an opportunity for growth. Following these steps will help you move from fear of feedback to proactively seeking it on your own.


Why constructive feedback is your best friend


Everyone should have goals in mind to guide their professional development. Maybe you feel you want more responsibility, or to aim for a higher position, but aren’t sure what steps you should be taking to prove you can take on more. Feedback can be used as a strategy to achieve these goals. Like pieces of a puzzle, the more feedback you receive the clearer the picture will get. Becoming defensive will only make you miss out on opportunities to excel.

Asking for more constructive feedback when all you get is praise takes you from being a good employee to going above and beyond. It demonstrates you’re motivated to work hard and are open to criticism. Being receptive to your colleagues’ feedback also makes you a desirable person to have on team projects. Consider the possibility that others may sometimes misinterpret your actions. Getting feedback gives you the opportunity to see your actions from an outsider’s perspective and alter them accordingly.

For example, imagine your colleague tells you that in the last team meeting you seemed uninterested in everyone else’s opinions. Instead of getting mad, if you ask them for more details you may find out that being on your laptop while others were speaking made your co-workers think you weren’t paying attention to what they had to say. Even if in reality you were taking notes on everybody’s contribution, their perception of the incident may have been different.  


How to avoid going into defensive mode when receiving constructive feedback


Now that you know why constructive feedback is good for you, imagine you take the initiative to ask for it. Do you feel ready to process the information or can you still feel your eyes start to water and your temperature start to rise? Even if you believe constructive feedback can be good for you, if you still can’t shake the emotional or defensive feeling you get when receiving it, the best remedy is to better understand why you’re feeling this way.

Your brain has a natural tendency to go into fight or flight mode when it senses you’re being threatened. The increased amounts of hormones being released into your bloodstream are the cause of your heightened emotion. Receiving negative feedback can also threaten our natural desire to belong. Hunter-gatherers depended on being a part of groups for protection and survival. Management Professor Neal Ashkanasy contends that although today we are not as dependent on others for survival, criticism may still raise the alarm that our place in the group is being threatened. A continuing fear of being cast out can prevent us both from receiving feedback well and giving it to others.

Though it’s natural to feel this way, it’s also not impossible to overcome. Once you stop seeing constructive feedback as negative you can prevent your brain from eliciting these kinds of reactions. Carol Dweck’s studies into the difference between growth and fixed mindsets are a good example. In her research the benefits of having a growth over a fixed mindset are clear. People with a growth mindset don’t take their abilities for granted but see them as skills they must work on to develop. In their mind, constructive feedback isn’t seen as disapproval, but as advice on how they can further perfect these skills. Not being afraid of constructive criticism also makes them more willing to take on new challenges. The following steps will help you change your perception of constructive feedback.


Steps to help you manage your emotions:


1.     Set professional goals for yourself

Before you even receive feedback you should think about what professional goals you would like to set for yourself. If you’re not motivated to achieve more professionally, it may be more difficult to receive constructive criticism. People with growth mindsets are motivated by their desire to develop further and use feedback as a guide for achieving their goals. Creating goals will give you a target to orient your efforts towards. These could be long or short-term goals, just make sure they are challenging yet achievable.


2.     Ask questions

When you feel yourself starting to get emotional switch to detective mode. Investigate further what exactly your manager or colleague is telling you so you can better address the issue. Remember that different perceptions could play a role here and as such you want to get down to the facts rather than opinions.

In the previous example, your colleague’s assessment that you seemed uninterested in other people's’ contributions was based on their opinion. Being on your laptop during the discussion was a fact. This fact is what you’re looking for as it provides an actionable piece of information. Knowing how people perceive you being on your laptop during meetings tells you what behavior you can change to improve your image as a team player.

If you start to feel yourself becoming emotional it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the reviewer if you can have some time to process the information and schedule another meeting. When your fight or flight mode kicks in and emotions start to run high it’s difficult to concentrate on what the other person is saying. Taking time out to calm your nerves will allow you to process your feedback as calmly and objectively as possible.


3.     Analyze patterns and tendencies

Now it’s time to analyze the feedback you’ve been given. If your feedback is coming from a 360-degree review you can compare the different responses of your colleagues and peers. If it’s coming from a one off session, try to recall some of the constructive feedback you received in the past. If you see any patterns or feel you might recognize some of the behaviors they’re describing write them down.

If this is your first review, write down the main points your reviewer said you should work on. You may not always have time to go back to your office to process the information. In this case take a moment to make a mental inventory of your feedback.

Most people will give you constructive feedback out of a genuine belief that the advice they’re giving will help improve your performance. Even so, this does not necessarily mean you should follow it. When you feel it might not be right for you ask other people you trust for their opinion. If in the end you still don’t feel making this change will help you achieve your career goals, it is ok to pass or consider adjusting it to best suit your work style.

Also consider the source. If your office arch nemesis happens to be included in the list of reviewers you should still take their feedback into consideration. Remember to look for facts as opposed to opinions in their statement. It could be that their feedback is riddled with unsubstantiated opinions but it may still give you deeper insight into the reasons why the two of you don’t see eye to eye.


4.     Develop a strategy

The list you created will now become your battle plan. Think about how these behaviors/issues could become barriers to the goals you came up with in step one. Plan what steps you could take to address these points. For example, say you’re applying for a management position and want to impress your boss by leading the next team project. If your colleagues don’t feel you’re giving them your full attention during team meetings you’re not likely to reach this goal. To tackle this issue, in the next meeting you may want to ditch the laptop. If taking notes is really important for you, instead make an effort to look up at the speaker from time to time and add encouraging words to show them you’re listening.


5.     Share your plan and ask for advice and support

It’s a good idea to share your strategy with the reviewers. This shows them you’re taking steps to remedy the issues they pointed out. They may also have suggestions you may not have considered. Finally, ask your manager or colleague for support in making these changes. If they see that you genuinely want to put their advice into action, they’ll be sure to offer you encouragement along the way and be more receptive when you give them feedback in return.


Summary and take-aways:


Receiving constructive feedback can be emotionally draining when taken as a personal affront. Overcoming this tendency could be the step that takes you from being a good employee to a top performer. Being open to your manager and colleagues’ feedback will demonstrate that you’re an effective communicator, team player and hard worker who is always eager to improve.


  • Set goals for yourself

  • Ask the right questions

  • Analyze your feedback and identify patterns

  • Develop a winning strategy to overcome these obstacles and achieve your goals

  • Share your plan with others and get support