Taking Work Feedback Personally

Many of us allow our identity to be tied to our work. We let our jobs define our self-worth. If we receive critical feedback for our work, we feel like our life is failing too.

When performance reviews are around the corner, it is worth knowing how to take critical feedback without letting it affect our emotional wellbeing.

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Communication

While you can't control what you're boss will say to you, you can control how you respond.

A strategy for dealing with criticism is the Stop-Acknowledge-Feel-Engage (SAFE) technique. It can remind you of your worth and help you manage your mental and emotional health.

When our work performance is criticised, it can make us question our sense of self and make us perceive it as a threat. We are likely to have an emotional reaction that can lead to irrational outbursts.

How to manage your response: Stop. Don't defend yourself or argue your position. Instead, try to become aware of your physical and emotional reaction. Is your heart racing, your breathing shallow? Silently count to 10, focus on your breath, and lightly rub your fingers as you listen.

As your boss talks, actually listen and don't just think of a rebuttal. Ask open-ended questions to show you are engaged in the conversation.

  • Your questions are a paraphrase of what your boss says. "I hear you say X, which to me sounds like Y. Is that correct?"
  • Avoid "why" questions as it tends to put the speaker on the defensive. "Why would you say I am not a team player?"
  • Watch your tone. Try to keep it warm and your pitch low.

When you come away from the conversation, you might need some place to vent. Find a safe space outside of the office, if possible.

  • To remind yourself that you are more than your job, ask trusted friends to hear you out. They may remind you of your accomplishments. During the talks, try to understand what about the feedback is upsetting you.
  • Using your friends' feedback, make a list of the great things you've done to help increase your confidence.

Once you don't feel so down, ask people you trust to help identify your blind spots and talk about improving these areas. Then look at the feedback you've received and compare it to what your boss said.

  • Are there overlaps between the feedback of your friends and your boss?
  • Have these weaknesses shown up elsewhere, such as at school or while doing volunteer work?
  • Do you have another point of view and the evidence to support your argument?

Set up some time with your boss to discuss the feedback and how you plan to improve.

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