How to Get Feedback Without Feeling Defensive

Written by Angela Atkinson

If you know that feedback is good for you, why do you sometimes respond defensively when you hear it? It’s natural to want to protect your feelings, but cutting yourself off from useful input interferes with learning and growth.

Fortunately, defensive mechanisms are learned behavior that you can train yourself to overcome. The next time you feel like you’re under attack, keep these points in mind.

Accepting Feedback – Understanding Your Defense Triggers

1. Examine your past. Feeling like you’re being judged unfairly can dredge up unresolved issues from earlier years. Ask yourself if you’re responding to the immediate situation or still caught up in trying to justify yourself to a parent or ex-spouse.

2. Consider the source. Maybe you’re okay with feedback in general, unless it comes from a stranger or someone you don’t get along with. Keep in mind that strangers and adversaries may bring up valuable information your loved ones tiptoe around.

3. Keep it private. It’s more uncomfortable being lectured in front of an audience. Let others know that you’d appreciate talking one-on-one.

4. Reframe conflicts. Airing grievances has its upside. You bring disagreements out into the open where they can be resolved instead of festering into something worse. Plus, the process of collaborating on solutions tends to deepen the connection between colleagues, friends, and family.

5. Shift your mindset. Look at feedback as an opportunity to grow instead of a sign you flunked some big test. You’ll feel empowered rather than threatened.

6. Affirm your value. Shore up your self-esteem so you’re ready for your next performance review or family meeting. Remembering your accomplishments as a top salesperson or gourmet cook will give you the confidence you need to brush up in a few more areas.

Accepting Feedback – Working on Communication Skills

1. Slow down. Pausing for a deep breath will give you time to calm down and hear what’s being said. That way you can decide how to respond instead of automatically shutting down or lashing out.

2. Listen to your body. If being defensive has become a habit, you may need to watch closely to notice the symptoms. Check whether your pulse is racing or your jaw is clenched.

3. Face your feelings. It can be hard to look at ourselves honestly and navigate a sensitive conversation. Acknowledging that you’re stressed or uncomfortable makes it easier to deal with your emotions.

4. Avoid retaliation. Your first impulse may be to strike back by pointing out the flaws in others. If you resist that temptation, you’re more likely to have a productive discussion.

5. Offer validation. Let others know that you respect their opinions and want to understand their point of view. Repeat back what you heard in your own words. It will give you time to think and show that you’re sincere about collaborating on solutions.

6. Search for truth. Sometimes feedback is off base and delivered without much skill or good intentions. Before you dismiss it entirely, remember that there may still be some valid insights buried in there. Think it over or ask someone you trust to help you sort it out.

7. Suggest alternatives. Receiving feedback skillfully doesn’t always mean acting upon it. That decision is up to you. You may want to explain your position and express your willingness to work things out some other way.

Constructive feedback helps you to enjoy more happiness and success. Being open to comments and criticism will strengthen your relationships and put you on the path to achieving your potential.

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