Negative Feedback slashes hopes, disrupts confidence and spikes fears—not just when poorly presented; sometimes it’s just poorly received. Some of us are fragile. Any correction, disapproval or well-meaning advice ignites protective emotions. Whether well-intended or not, we can learn from feedback—verbal and behavioral. Life continually flows back and forth. Packaged within human interactions are cues—acceptance, rejection, impatience, and compassion—just to name a few. The information communicated is easily blurred with the smearing brush of ego. We fear communication that might diminish self-worth. A suggestion, a correction or a disapproving glance can set the soul on fire, triggering a burning defense to protect the wounded ego. However, others offer significant information that we may otherwise miss. Accepting feedback is a powerful tool to break through our subjective self evaluations.
This isn’t new; our ego interferes with learning. Our limited exposures narrow understanding; when we close our minds to opposing thoughts, we cripple opportunities for expanding wisdom and rely on ignorance bound to the chains of subjectivity. Overly sensitive egos painfully receive all negative reactions as rejection (of self). Writing for Flourishing Life Society has exposed my fears. Allowing for brief glimpses of my weakness in writing and opening my heart to occasional rejection and snotty remarks, the choice was clear, “do I run from rejection or do I work to improve my skill?”
We all Need Feedback
We are not beyond reproach. No one has perfected a craft so worthy that correction and improvements are impossible. We don’t live so wonderfully that external feedback can be universally disregarded; living with others is dynamic, demanding continual monitoring, change and growth. If we choose to live inside ourselves, stagnating in self-knowledge, we limit connection—a major component of a rich and fulfilling life.
Our magnificent life is manifest through interaction, poking the unknown for feedback through confirming questions, expressed doubts, and sometimes rejection. Growth occurs through feedback loops. Interactions illuminate the self. If we ignore non-reassuring messages, we stupefy our futures, limiting the knowledge to the crumbs that haphazardly fall from the greater table of life.
Learning moments for the open minded excite the soul; but others rebel and viciously attack. Instead of openness, the fearful react with shortness, implying differences stem from ignorance of the presenter; any disagreements (to the feeble minded) signal the opposition’s wrongness.
“We don’t live so wonderfully that external inputs can be disregarded; living with others is dynamic, demanding continual monitoring, change and growth.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Accepting Feedback Stimulates Growth
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a distinguished professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University, wrote “Some people have an uncanny ability to match their skills to the opportunities around them. They set manageable goals for themselves even when there does not seem to be anything for them to do.” He continues, “they are good at reading feedback that others fail to notice” (2009). Feedback is an essential part of successfully working with goals.
We need negative feedback, bringing attention to areas in need of improvement. Being on the giving or receiving end of negative feedback is uncomfortable. Art Markman Ph.D. wrote in his book on change, that “It is important to be willing to make people uncomfortable when working with them to change behavior.”
He explains, “to give people negative feedback, though, you have to be willing to overcome your natural tendency to be agreeable. Agreeableness is one of the five basic personality dimensions, and it reflects how much you want other people to like you. All of us are agreeable to some extent. The more you want people to like you, though, the harder you find it to give people negative feedback because in that moment they do not like you so much” (2015).
When Accepting Feedback Hurts
Many factors cause the conflicting opinions, discovering these factors build foundations of wisdom. Some truths hurt; we don’t acknowledge them because we don’t like them. An unconsidered truth can disrupt many theories, sending us scrawling back to the drawing board to redesign the meaning of life. Often learning, creates a new chaos to organize, so we shut our minds and live in ignorance. But by disregarding opposing messages, we strangle the flow of knowledge.
We can’t, however, accept every message as truth—false messages abound. When we have time and mental energy, we explore, learning and growing. Seymore Epstein suggests seeking feedback from multiple sources to help weed out biased observations. He wrote, “if possible, solicit feedback from more than one person on the same issue; any one person may have a biased, distorted viewpoint. But if, after speaking with several people, you see a consistent pattern emerge, there is good reason to take the criticism seriously” (1998).
Openly shared philosophies invite ridicule. Our subjective experience may miss important factors; our expressions maybe foolishness. Some messages may be rejected because of hidden entwined biases. Other expressions may be rejected because of exposed humanness and vulnerability, shining a light on hidden pain, the smug listener sees the weakness and rejects the message.
We Can’t Force Others to Believe as We Believe
We can’t force thoughts on others; we can’t be certain of the correctness behind our messages. Living in silence and alone with concepts in our head is meaningless. When a message is rejected, we shouldn’t resist the defensiveness of jumping to action, desperately trying to convince the other of their wrongness (except if life is in imminent danger).
We preferably should use the rejection to signal further investigation and possible new insights. Maybe the message, previously so clear, is wrong, tainted with bias and ignorance, it may only be visible when we view it from another perspective. Digging our heels in and closing our minds furthers the self-deceptions.
First understand feedback being conveyed, soothe the tender ego, and then mindfully evaluate the information for previously missed facts. Accepting feedback does not imply we unconditionally accept the information as untarnished by bias. Others have biases too. However, when we listen intently, taming our own ego and biases, we find greater wisdom and a widening view of life.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2009). The Evolving Self: Psychology for the Third Millennium, A (Harper Perennial Modern Classics). HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition.
Epstein, Seymour (1998). Constructive Thinking: The Key to Emotional Intelligence. Praeger.
Markman, Art (2015). Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others. Tarcher-Perigee; Reprint edition.