Learning how to deal with negative feedback

Written by Lorenzo Colombo - Co-founder of Soulful Soundwaves

A few days ago I read an article in a local magazine written by a lady who received some unpleasant and unnecessary comment on her social media business page. Visibly upset, she was reflecting on how futile things like this make you feel, and why some people decide to throw personal attacks for no reason. Many people had a similar experience, including us, waking up one morning and discovering with surprise a reply to one of your business posts left by somebody who doesn’t know who you are, what you do and why you do it. A judgemental, insulting, superficial, harsh opinion. You stare at your computer screen speechless, and while you think about the motive this person might have had you start experiencing pain, physical and emotional. It hurts.

Why is that? If that person’s rant is so unjustified, so untrue, and therefore so meaningless, why do we feel like a knife just entered between our shoulder blades? One reason is that you put a lot of effort and time in to what you do, and when somebody vilifies it in this way he/she sends the message that your work is worth less than nothing. Still, it’s just one person.

Why does it hurt so much?

In most cases our first reaction would be feeling the need to respond to that person voicing our anger. Instead what we should do is remind ourselves that that rant simply represents an opinion. In other words, it’s not objective or true, it’s simply a point of view. Also, very often an insult tells us more about the person throwing it than about the target.

Feedback can be provided in two different ways: constructive or destructive. In the first case, we use communication in a productive way, using it to enhance creativity, inspire, innovate and solve problems. In the second scenario we just produce grief.

If it doesn’t help, it’s worthless.

It doesn’t really matter if our feedback is positive or negative, as long as it produces positive consequences. We should always keep in mind that the outcome of an exchange of opinion depends on how personal the issue becomes. As long as we focus on the topic we are discussing we are going to be able to find a solution. As soon as the attention switches from the topic to a personal level (who’s right and who’s wrong) not only we will fail to address the problem, we also loose an opportunity to make the other party think. We stop being receptive, solution focused and proactive and we go into fight or flight mode, becoming defensive.

It’s no different if we are talking to our worst enemy, our final purpose should always be to make the other party reflect. If we cannot do it we fail to provide an opportunity to change things for the better and we just fan the flames that are going to hurt somebody else. Someone just like us. We are all responsible for this.

Looking at things from a detached prospective is undoubtedly hard. Boy, it’s so much easier to offend somebody. It all depends on what we want to achieve. If we love to be insulted and vilified the easy path is definitely the way to go. But if we don’t, and we’d like people to acknowledge and respect us as human beings, we need to keep the eyes on the prize. We need to be able to see from a distance what’s hurting us in order to consider it as an innocent outburst instead of a knife in our back. After all, it’s just our perception of what happens that makes us feel worse, not the thing itself.

How do we brush off destructive feedback and see the difference perspective? 

To start putting things into the right perspective we need daily practice. I know, I know, we don’t have time. Like I said it’s a choice, it depends on what kind of outcome we want to achieve. 15 minutes a day is not unreasonable, and it leaves us plenty of time to do what we have to do. We need to increase our buffer of patience, train our mind to remain calmer and more relaxed. The reason why our brain switches to fight or flight mode is because it fears we are going to be in danger, no matter how real or apparent the danger is. Increasing our buffer means going into fight or flight mode only when the danger becomes real. Meditation and listening to binaural beats music help in this process, if practiced frequently. Both are going to give us the advantage to be less susceptible to destructive personal ideas, while making the passage between acknowledgement and reaction (fight or flight mode) less automatic.

Let’s be promoters of this change. Let’s start behaving in a way that makes people think, instead of react. Let’s contribute to solve problems, instead of perpetuating them.