How to Come to Terms with Constructive Feedback

Constructive criticism helps us get better at work and life, but we're still learning how to react. Here are some tips on how to stay level-headed.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #407

You’re great! And if you’re listening to this podcast, you care about getting better. And an essential part of getting better is understanding where you have “opportunities for improvement.”

But when well-meaning, helpful people point out our mistakes—I mean "opportunities for improvement"—we just might fly into a mindless rage and do unspeakable things to any stuffed animals in range. There’s got to be a way to accept feedback from others and still have Fluffy Wuffy survive.

Outdraw the People Around You

Everyone knows that if you can draw your Light Saber first, you can neatly slice right through your opponent’s clothing, leaving them suddenly naked so they run off and hide behind the nearest large object. Star Wars wanted a G rating, so they glossed over this point, but at long last, the truth can come out. After all, how do you think the Jedi were able to subdue enemies without actually engaging in violence?

You can do the same thing, with your awesome verbal light-saber, by opening yourself up for improvement before it comes to you by surprise. Look at the people around you. They may appear sweet and innocent, but inside, they’re teeming with tips on how you can work better, how you can treat them better, and all the ways you can improve. And if you ask for their opinion first, you’re in the position of power, even if their feedback isn’t exactly what you want to hear.

When you initiate the feedback discussion, it puts you in a good headspace to receive the advice. You know it’s coming. You asked for it. It will be easier to take once it gets to you. If you want to know how to ask for feedback, you can listen to my past episode by going to GetItDoneGuy.com/askforfeedback. 

But say you don’t ask for the feedback, and Kel from the desk down the row is rounding your cubicle, just frothing at the lips with useful feedback that you’re about to hear, whether or not you want to. How do you prepare to hear the unexpected?

Go to “The Balcony”

At the Harvard Program on Negotiation, they say to keep feelings in check. How? When the feels are starting to rise up, notice! Is your fist clenching itself? That’s a sign. Do you find yourself casually strolling to the fireplace, picking up the poker, and gripping it a bit too tightly as you rearrange the deadly, flaming logs beneath the chimney? That’s another sign.

At that moment, imagine yourself floating up to a balcony, watching Kel give you feedback. If you take yourself out of the direct situation, you can look at the situation objectively. Your emotion can be one of interest and curiosity. Calm interest and curiosity. Calmer … calmer…. Put down the poker. Yes, like that! Now you can take the feedback at face value, and decide if your critic’s feedback is worthwhile. Just listen to the words, and understand you can let them affect you only if you want them to.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.