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The Power of Feedback

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

Something that comes up with more clients than not is how they manage feedback. This is something many of us struggle with for varied reasons. However, being able to accept and give feedback can be an incredibly powerful skill to learn. Below we will discuss key issues inherent in giving and receiving feedback as well as key reasons for why and how it can be incredibly useful.

We all have received feedback and we likely have all experienced feedback in a positive, helpful way, and in a problematic or unhelpful way. First, we will talk about some of the issues that come with feedback and then we will discuss important things to consider when trying to accept feedback in a more positive way.

  •       Defensiveness- This is a big one, it is both something that is adaptive and also something that has often become maladaptive for many of us. It can be difficult for many of us, based on past experiences and traumas, to take information in that can be seen as negative or bad about ourselves. This is something to be aware of and sensitive to both for others and for ourselves, and also something to be aware of that may be hindering growth.
  •       Problem Areas- While of course it is important to be mindful and work on when we may get defensive when getting feedback, it is also important to recognize that sometimes it is possible there is a very healthy reason for not feeling comfortable with it. Often times the way feedback is given is not helpful, or intentionally hurtful. Further, it can be manipulative or abusive. For example, did your partner tell you something critical about your appearance because they genuinely thought it may be helpful for you to know, or did they tell you to make you lose confidence or feel bad about yourself? Sometimes, it is intended to be helpful but isn’t, or is just intended to be harmful.
  •       Openness to Learning- Something that is a key helpful area regarding feedback is how you decide to perceive or engage with it. If you are able to see it is helpful information, this can instantly help you grow. Your supervisor telling you that your writing needs improvement, assuming it is done appropriately, is something you could view as helpful information to further your growth. If you are able to take this in in a healthy way and identify it as something that could be useful to incorporate, you will likely get better at your work. And a bonus is that people around you will see you are able to take feedback in a positive way. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, it can still be valuable information. Maybe you even gain insight into an issue you were not aware of.
  •       How to Accept Feedback- So, how do you do it? This is of course a very complex issue, but generally it can be very useful to ask for even more feedback. If someone gives you feedback that doesn’t feel good, ask for more details, that can often help you see if it is helpful or hurtful. If a supervisor suggests you may need to work on your communication with co-workers, ask for more details, if they have good follow up then it is likely they intended to be helpful. If they struggle, or can’t give specifics, it is likely something that was not intended to be helpful. Take time to digest the feedback, it can be hard to hear so take time to let it simmer, don’t react right away. If you still feel it wasn’t helpful after a day or two then you might be able to react in a healthier way. If by then you have been able to see they had a good point, then maybe the sting wore off and you now see the usefulness of the comment. Also, consider the source, is it someone you trust and is supportive, or is it someone who often cuts you down?

Of course feedback is hard, we all want to do things well and when we are told we aren’t totally successful in whatever area, it feels bad. However, it doesn’t have to if you are able to parse out the problematic aspects of the feedback and the helpful ones, it can be incredibly powerful and useful to hear and act on that feedback. Ask for more details if you are unsure how accurate the feedback is, take it in and process for a day or two if needed, and pay attention to whatever information comes along with the feedback, and you will find you are growing in a lot of different, powerful ways even if ultimately you find the feedback was problematic.

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