According to the analytics company Gallup, many of us let our jobs define our self-worth. We want to be respected and honoured for who we are, and our work plays a substantial role in this equation. Any negative messages we receive about our performance hugely affect our self-esteem, both in and outside the office.
So how do we deal with it? How we do take critical feedback from performance reviews without letting it affect our emotional well-being?
While you can't control what your boss will say, you can control your own reactions. A helpful strategy for dealing with criticism is the SAFE (stop, acknowledge, feel, engage) technique. Use this technique as described here to remind yourself of your worth and manage your mental and emotional health when you receive difficult feedback. Remember, without the right tools and preparation, recovering from the mental trauma of a negative review can waste a lot of your time.
When someone criticises our work or makes us question our sense of self, we perceive it as a threat, which triggers our flight-or-fight response. The amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, our body's command centre. At this point, we are likely to experience a severe emotional reaction, known as the amygdala hijack, and are more prone to irrational outbursts.
To manage your response upon receiving negative feedback (whether you agree with it or not), the first thing you need to do is simple: Stop. Don't jump in to argue or defend your position. Defending yourself or providing a counterargument will not change your boss's mind. It will more likely result in a downward spiral of finger-pointing and blame-shifting.
Your boss is giving you this feedback because there is something about your performance they would like to critique, and they feel that they are right. If your response to this is reactionary, rather than thoughtful, you may come across as petulant, which will not help your situation.
Instead, create a "circuit breaker," a technique that can help you regulate your emotions and lower your stress level. To make a circuit breaker, try to become aware of your physical and emotional reactions in the moment. Is your heart racing? Are your palms sweaty? Is your breath shallow? Then, practice mindfulness techniques to bring yourself back into the present. Silently count to 10, focus on the warmth of your breath as it leaves your nostrils and lightly rub your thumb and forefinger together as you listen to what your boss has to say.
You need to acknowledge your boss's point of view before sharing your own. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions to show that you are engaged in the conversation. You'll come across as a reasonable person who is taking everything into account, and your boss will be more likely to listen when you do speak up.
Paraphrase what your boss says, and respond back in the form of a question: "Would you be able to give me an example of when I wasn't able to do X?" This will let them know that you are listening and give you a deeper explanation of what's driving their statements. Avoid questions that start with "why," since questions framed this way tend to put the speaker on the defensive.
Lastly, be aware of your tone. A high-pitched, harsh tone can evoke an even harsher reaction. Try to keep your tone warm and your pitch low to defuse the tense situation.
As you move away from the discussion, you might need some space to vent and let out your feelings. Find a safe place, preferably outside the office, to do this. Even though you may feel isolated right after your conversation, remember that you are not in this alone.
To minimise "all or nothing" thinking and remind yourself that you are more than your job, ask a trusted circle of friends or peers to listen. Your friends may be able to pull you out of a dark head space and remind you of your accomplishments. During these chats, focus on understanding what it is about the feedback that upset you. Remember that the feedback was about the work, not you. By shifting your perspective, you'll build your resilience muscle.
Once you have reached a better head space, seek out some candid feedback from the people you trust. Ask them to help you identify your blind spots. You could say something like, "What are three things you think I need to work on?"
Now consider the feedback you've just received and compare it with what your manager said. Use the following questions to guide you:
• Are there overlaps or patterns between the feedback my friends and my boss gave me?
• Have these weaknesses shown up in my life before? Can I identify when and where?
• Which points raised by my boss do I agree with? What actions can I take knowing this?
• Do I need more information from my boss to succeed?
• Do I have another point of view that I would like to express to my boss? Do I have enough evidence to support my argument?
Now, keep what you learned from the SAFE technique in mind, and set up some time to speak with your boss. Demonstrate openness by acknowledging where you agree with your boss and how you plan to work on the feedback you received. You could say: "Based on the feedback you've given me, it seems I need to work on A, B, C and D. Here's how I plan to do it. However, there are two things that I have a different perspective on, and I'd like to talk to you more about them. Would that be OK?" You'll have a better chance of being heard if you start from a place of alignment.
Following the SAFE method will not only allow you to process criticism more effectively; it will help you discover your own potential.
Written by: Shyamli Rathore
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