What is Stopping You from Receiving Constructive Feedback Well?
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
The details of the coaching examples provided in this blog are composites based on real situations. Some names may have been altered to respect the confidentiality of my clients.
Betty was concerned about how she was reacting to her husband’s constructive feedback, so she went to her coach hoping to gain clarity on what was going on with her.
During their conversation, Betty shared that whenever she received constructive feedback from her husband, she felt the need to defend herself. On a few occasions, she was so angry that she shut down the conversation by pretending that she didn’t hear his feedback. As a consequence, Betty’s husband felt disappointed and hurt. Betty felt guilty because she knew that she did a much better job at receiving constructive feedback at workplace than at home.
Her coach asked for an example of when Betty received constructive feedback poorly at home. Betty shared this recent story:
“We were having dinner that I had prepared. He complained about one particular dish that I had made many times before. He said it tasted less delicious than usual. I explained that I made slight changes to the ingredients, just to experiment with something new. But he continued to compare the new taste with the usual taste in details. Suddenly, I cut him off and shouted: ‘I actually think the new one is much more delicious. Like it or not, I enjoy it VERY MUCH."
Hearing Betty’s story, her coach noticed that Betty had a strong desire to not be wrong. But Betty was probably not ready to hear that yet. So her coach questioned her emotions and thoughts that came to mind when she heard her husband’s comments. It became clear that Betty valued her husband’s opinion so much that she had been taking his comments as reflections of her self-worth.
Through coaching, Betty gained clarity on what triggered her unhealthy self-defense mechanism. The increasing self-awareness was critical to Betty and her relationship with her husband:
It immediately removed the guilt, confusion, and distress from Betty.
It empowered Betty to deal with constructive feedback in intimate relationships.
It allowed Betty to realize her unmet personal needs and created an opportunity for them to be met in future.
What did Betty and her coach do in coaching that deepened Betty’s self-awareness? You will find the answers below from the three key lessons Betty learned during her coaching conversation.
Lesson #1 Receiving constructive feedback does not necessarily mean that you are not acknowledged.
In Betty’s mind, receiving constructive feedback from her husband meant that he didn’t acknowledge her as a good cook and wife. When her coach asked:” What was true about that thought?”, Betty realized that it was not true. She recalled times when her husband appreciated her contribution to the family and even explicitly shared that he enjoyed her cooking. Therefore, her thought was not well-grounded in truth. Realizing the truth, Betty not only felt relieved, but also reflected on a few other situations where she had probably overreacted due to the same self-limiting thoughts.
Lesson #2 When you receive constructive feedback, do not assume that it is all about you.
Betty was triggered by her husband’s complaint and took it as if it must be her problem. In reality, it was just a matter of personal preference, i.e., her husband preferred the old taste to the new one. When others are unhappy with us, it is not necessarily that there is something “wrong” with us; it can be as simple as our not meeting the need that they seek. When her coach asked:” What is allowing you to take things personally in this cooking example, knowing that it could just be a matter of personal preference?” Betty’s reply led them to Lesson 3.
Lesson #3 When you find yourself over-reacting or under-reacting to constructive feedback, examine yourself: am I taking their comments as reflection of my self-worth?
Different people react to constructive feedback differently. For some, constructive feedback is just a piece of information, and they know that it’s ultimately their decision as to whether or not they want to act on the feedback. For others, it seems as though it is a reflection of their self-worth, so they feel insecure and defensive when receiving feedback. Betty’s example shows that she belonged to the latter group. When her husband enjoyed her cooking, she felt great about herself. When he complained, she felt terrible. Her emotions and behaviors were largely impacted by her husband’s behaviors. When we let our emotions about ourselves depend on the behavior of others, we have little ownership of our own happiness.
Through the coaching conversation, Betty became aware of her thinking pattern that was preventing her from treating her husband's constructive feedback as neutral. That awareness was the first step towards change. She also realized that it was pivotal for her to figure out what truly defined her self-worth. Unless she proactively defined it, future situations would likely not go her way, and she’d find herself feel angry and guilty again.
In the following weeks, Betty worked with her coach to break the above goal into smaller pieces. Each week Betty felt closer to reaching her goal.
If you find it hard to accept constructive feedback in a relationship, whether it is an intimate relationship or a work / social relationship, you may want to ask yourself the following questions to discover what’s really going on:
What was I feeling when I heard the feedback?
What was I thinking and saying to myself when I felt that way?
What was true about the thoughts I had in that moment? Which of them were grounded in truth, which weren’t?
Is there a pattern to my reactions in my relationship with the person? Am I taking his or her feedback as a reflection of my self-worth?
If you choose to reflect deeply on your reactions, I’d love to hear your findings.
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About Lucy Qian, International Life Coach
Lucy’s clients say that she has a superpower for helping them see clear direction and next steps, no matter how confused they are in the beginning. Through coaching with Lucy, they become clear about who they are and know what they really want.
Lucy is a certified coach in different settings: Professional Certified Coach (PCC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF), Certified Laser-focused Life Coach by the Life Coaching Group, and Organizational Coach by the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership.
In her blog, A Journey to Clearness, Lucy shares life experiences and lessons from her practice as an international life coach.
Learn more about Lucy Qian.