By Lisa Calhoun
Taking feedback well is at the heart of many of the important interactions in your life, from listening to an upset partner, to performance reviews, to smart, agile software development, and the process of innovation itself.
Since feedback is so pervasive in our lives, it’s surprising how little you’re taught about how to handle it. When it’s positive, it’s almost invisible. There’s nothing to change. When it’s not positive, it can be tough to know what to do with it.
This year, consider changing how you take feedback and see if it doesn’t free you to be more successful.
Learning the art of accepting feedback
There’s an art to it, says author and therapist Tara Mohr. In her recent book, Playing Big, she writes about how she learned to love feedback–all feedback. “I started out as a girl so damned afraid of criticism that the harsh words my English professor said (your short story doesn’t ‘doesn’t go anywhere,’ your writing is ‘clunky,’ and so on) were so wounding to me that I didn’t write for years after graduating. Years.”
First, is it accurate feedback?
You are, after all, an expert on yourself. “Feedback is telling me useful information about the person giving the feedback, not about myself,” says Tara. “All substantive work draws both positive and negative feedback.”
To process feedback well, first dig into why that person had that specific feedback. Is your mom always positive about your work? Great. It may not say much about the work and more about her relationship stance to you. Is the investor saying she doesn’t like your idea because it’s a bad idea or because she doesn’t know anything about consumer product companies? What you learn from an investor that didn’t like your idea is that they are not the right investor for you—it says a lot about them and little about you.
Did the fact that another group of investors loved the idea say anything about your entrepreneurship? Not really. It says they think they can make money with your concept.
Focusing on the person giving the feedback, and making sure you know as much as you can about their motives, helps you focus on learning about the people you are trying to reach. It helps you chunk feedback into the actionable and the un-actionable. Plus, it helps build a wall so that all feedback becomes emotionally neutral. What starts to stand out for you is not emotionally charged, but that feedback that’s charged with usefulness—useful as rated only by you, in terms of how much it helps you reach your goals. Period.
Second, is it actionable now?
You don’t have to act, even on accurate feedback. You have a lot of choices besides taking direct action, like letting the feedback inform your decisions in the future or ignoring it all together because it doesn’t fit your priority list.
Feedback gives you insight into the other’s thought process
The biggest takeaway to changing your relationship to feedback is realizing that the feedback gives you invaluable information about the other person—not necessarily about you. Learning about other people’s perspectives on you and your work is no doubt great information to have. It is not necessarily great insight from them. That judgment is entirely up to you. Tara puts it this way—“Feedback doesn’t tell you whether you are good enough or not, whether your ideas have merit or not. Whether you are gloriously worthy or worthless. It is not meant to give you self-esteem boosts or wounds. It gives you tactical information about how to reach who you want to reach. Feedback is emotionally neutral information that tell us what sings to our audience, what resonates for them, what communicates clearly and what engages the people we want to engage.”
By separating feedback from response, you free yourself to take feedback in stride and if you want, to welcome a lot more of it. You might even learn to enjoy the adventure of gaining more data from your environment in order to speed your success.
This article originally appeared at Inc.com