I had many annual performance reviews in my corporate tenure, with positive quotes from people around the organization complimenting my work and progress. And I don't remember any of them. You know what I do remember? That one piece of constructive criticism from a peer.
It was a small "opportunity for improvement" my boss insisted she had to beg someone to provide, but that less-than-positive comment has stuck with me. I still remember who said it and the gist of what was said nearly 10 years later.
Our brains are wired to bristle at negative comments like this and dwell more on negative feedback than positive. It's because we are a herding species and safety comes in the acceptance of others. If the rest of the herd says you aren't quite hitting the mark the brain starts to panic.
This reaction is natural, and even those who embrace change still feel it when criticism comes, but what comes next is proving to be incredibly important in overall well-being.
Research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that wise reasoning (like responding properly to constructive criticism) is a better indicator of overall well-being than intelligence. Unlike IQ, wise reasoning skills were positively associated with satisfaction in life and relationships, a more positive daily life with less likelihood to brood, better handling of social conflicts--and a longer life.
Feedback is all around: your boss, peers, family or even social media. Developing wise reasoning skills and handling feedback positively (instead of rejecting it immediately) will positively change your life. The good news is, unlike crystalized intelligence, you can actually do something about this. Here are three steps to help you:
1. Make sure you are ready to tackle this now
Shifting how you respond to criticism will take some work and be uncomfortable at times, so you need to be ready to embrace the process. Because you will be asking for more feedback, you are going to get more of it. Your brain has two systems, one is automatic and fast (it makes most of your decisions) and the other is manual, slow.
Your response to feedback is automatic now. To change it means bringing it into the the other type of processing and coaching your new automatic response. It's like driving a car. It was difficult when you first learned (manual) but now you do everything without really thinking about it (automatic). Your brain still makes all the same choices, but it can do them easier without bugging your slow system. Change is possible, but it won't happen overnight and requires dedication.
2. Find someone you trust and be vulnerable with them
This could be anyone: a peer, partner, your boss or an employee. Explain that you truly want to work in this area and are aware it has been a weakness. Say something like, "I've set a goal to be more approachable and open to feedback. My natural inclination is to fight this, but I want to be better. I know it will take some work and more opportunities with someone I trust and whose opinion I value. I've always admired how well you respond to feedback, will you help me work on this?"
3. Give good feedback
They call it a feedback loop for a reason. In the same way teaching a topic helps you to understand it better, working to provide better feedback in a way people can positively react to will help you become better at receiving feedback as well. And, when you experience how difficult the fine-tuning is it may make you a little more open to that less-than-perfect feedback you get from someone else.
As you are get used to receiving feedback, start to expand your network of trusted parties by modifying the language used in step two. Perhaps saying something like, "I read an article on the importance of giving and receiving feedback well--it can help people have better relationships, be happier and live longer. It inspired me to have more open dialogue with trusted peers. I would love to include you in that network and practice a feedback loop. Are you open to investing in feedback with me?"
Wait for them to accept and if they do, invite them to provide you feedback before you offer any of your own.
Additionally, the best and easiest response is always, "Thank you for your feedback." And nothing else. No explanations or justifications--a simple thank you in the moment and reflect on your own time.
We can all work on feedback in some area of life. Maybe you've mastered this at work but have a terrible time with those not-quite-positive comments from your mother-in-law. Or maybe you accept feedback but shy from giving it. Thankfully, now you have solid reasons to work on it--longer life and more happiness.