Goodbye, Haters: Learning How to Navigate Feedback in the Workplace

Some women, like me, have a tendency to internalize feedback and criticism in ways that can be harmful. It is important to understand that feedback is a tool in your personal and professional development, but also that not all criticism should be taken to heart.

Receiving feedback, especially in a formal setting, can be nerve-wracking. I’ll be honest, my body betrays me when I’m getting negative feedback or criticism. When I’m really mad, I cry. Despite my very best efforts, tears will well up in the corner of my eyes. I keep telling myself, “Don’t you dare cry!”, but that just makes it worse. So, the way I have come to deal with it is to step back and try not to let the feedback or criticism make me angry. I come at it from a different place. I stop and remind myself that if this person is giving me feedback, they must care about me and my development. Otherwise, they would simply ignore me or avoid me, right? If you are like me, I suggest you take a “time-out” from the conversation and come back later. Maybe even make a joke about the tears if that feels authentic for you and try again.

I also encourage women to seek feedback in less formal situations. There’s no need to set up a meeting and sit across from each other in a conference room or in your office. Take a walk, or approach your boss or supervisor while hanging out in the “coffee bar” or break room. The conversation doesn’t have to encompass everything you’ve worked on that year, but can instead focus on the big projects. I like to use these opportunities to highlight something I know I’ve done well. For instance, I would say, “Dave, do you have any feedback on the hearing?” followed by, “The client told me I killed it!” This approach is two-fold— it gives Dave the opportunity to give me feedback on a real-time basis and also gives me the opportunity to remind Dave that I am good at my job and valuable to our team and clients.

As women, we have to remember that not all criticism or feedback is correct. Men, generally speaking, seem to be better able to brush off criticism as “someone else’s fault.” The reality is that, many times in our careers, we will receive criticism and feedback that just isn’t accurate. People have other agendas, and sometimes that includes knocking you down a level or putting you “in your place.” Even if the feedback is not given with malicious intent or to further a personal agenda, it may still be ill-informed or biased. Always be honest with yourself and consider whether there is truth in the feedback you receive, but keep in mind that sometimes, there just isn’t any. That’s the feedback and criticism you should walk away from.

Ignoring incorrect feedback and criticism is extremely difficult to do. I remember almost every bad thing someone has said to me—sometimes it’s all I hear in my head. My internal bully has a loud, persistent voice that I practice quieting. I’m working on being my own biggest cheerleader, and in turn letting others know when they have done a good job.

You also need to find a tribe of people (not just women) who will help you quiet that inner bully. My husband often tells me, “If you saw yourself the way the rest of us see you, you would rule the world!” I try, really I do, and succeed maybe 70% of the time. But I also am fortunate to have friends, colleagues and mentors who remind me and tell others how great I am, and who are honest with me about where I can improve. Everyone should surround themselves with people like that. Say goodbye to the haters, especially the one in your head. Use feedback and criticism as a tool to better yourself, and the rest of it can go to hell!