How To Artfully Receive Negative Feedback

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”
-Jackson Pollock, American painter

The phone call informing me about my terminated position caught me off guard. My boss worked from an out of state office and couldn’t meet in-person to deliver the news. As I listened to him describe the decision and its circumstances, my throat grew tight and my stomach turned. In my mind, I immediately replayed every mistake and missed opportunity during my employment. I felt defensive, angry and sad.

Maybe you’ve encountered negative feedback during a performance review. Or had to deal with it in personal relationships. Sometimes negative feedback is a planned discussion about a conflict or it’s an unwelcome spontaneous experience. Both can leave you disappointed and discouraged.

The goal is to get comfortable with the discomfort of receiving negative feedback. Think of yourself as the artist of your life. Everything you do or say is a brushstroke on the canvas of your potential masterpiece, including how you react to what’s unpleasant or unwanted.

You can elevate receiving negative feedback to an art form. Here are three mind shifts that will help you do it with more calm, flexibility and partnership.

Anxiety to Allow.
Anxiety is a reaction to something you believe is dangerous or stressful. You perceive the feedback as a threat to your physical, mental or emotional safety and survival. On top of this, you may get anxious about being anxious, which makes everything more complicated. All of this leads to an enormous amount of resistance.

To allow is to accept what’s happening in the moment. It doesn’t mean you condone or agree with what’s happening. It means you’re willing to let the moment be what it is. You allow yourself to be open to the experience as much as possible. You can focus on your breathing to be sure you’re not holding your breath as many people tend to do under duress.

Think of anxiety as a dam blocking the flow of a river. Allowing is dismantling the dam so the river can flow freely again. Without the resistance, you’ll better hear, understand and take positive action on the feedback without layering on your judgments and reactions.

Failure to Freedom.
No one likes to fail. Even though we may say failure is a learning opportunity, the truth is many of us would prefer to learn a different way. The issue with failure is that we tend to dwell on it instead of extracting the jewel of knowledge it provides us with to do better next time.

Freedom is releasing yourself from the weight of failure. It means you hold on to the valuable lesson while dropping all the negative thoughts about what went wrong. You look at failure through the eyes of a child in which failure is meaningless. It’s a forgettable event. How many times does a kid fall off their bike and get right back up again? How often does a toddler miss their mouth with a spoon when learning how to feed themselves?

Failure as a negative outcome is a learned idea. You can free yourself and choose to see it as nothing more than a stepping stone towards your eventual success. This perspective releases precious mental energy you need to focus on what you can do now for a better outcome tomorrow. How sure are you that a child will learn to ride their bike and feed themselves? You can have this same confidence about yourself.

Control to Collaborate.
Control is often our default response when we feel threatened. As we try to control circumstances, we regain a sense of power that was lost. Unfortunately, control is maladaptive. It closes off communication and restricts relationships.

Collaboration happens when you see negative feedback as a gift. Years ago, when I studied improvisation as an actress, I learned to treat the impromptu lines an actor gave me as an “offer” to be valued and utilized for something bigger and better. In improv, you practice this by responding with Yes, And.  

When you shift to a collaborative mindset, you open up communication and invite partnerships. You affirm the feedback and then continue with a suggestion or idea that is cooperative for the future.

Responding to a missed deadline, you could say, “Yes, I missed the deadline And I’d like direction on how to get the data more efficiently.” When your spouse tells you for the umpteenth time that you inadvertently left the stove on, you might say, “Yes, I forgot to turn it off And I was hoping you could help me find ways to remember to do it in the future.”

If I had understood the artistry of allow, freedom and collaboration when I lost my job, I might have painted a very different picture for myself. A masterpiece called being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Next time you receive negative feedback, try letting the river flow, absorbing the lesson while forgetting the mistake and remembering to say Yes, And.

Action Tips: Prepare yourself ahead of time for receiving negative feedback whenever it occurs by answering these questions.

  1. How anxious do you get about being anxious? Would you be willing to focus on your breath to lower your anxiety level?
  2. How does failure impact you? What could you do to make it a more freeing experience?
  3. How can you get in the habit of saying Yes, And to strengthen relationships and open communication?

Thanks for reading. Until next week, 

Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach

Success accelerator. Authenticity instigator. Creativity engineer. Mindset shifter. Challenge buster. Trusted partner.

Reprinted from my Authentic Success newsletter. You can subscribe here.

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