How the Confident Person Responds to Feedback

To mark yourself as a self-assured individual, take all criticism—
whether positive or negative—calmly and make it work for you.

A member of my website, MyCorporateClimb.com, recently asked for my thoughts on how to respond to feedback, both positive and negative. It’s a simple question, but believe me, the answer isn’t so simple. Giving feedback is a difficult interpersonal skill to master. Receiving feedback graciously may be even more difficult. For both the giver and receiver, it all boils down to self-confidence.

Most of us welcome positive feedback and accept it well, but confident people are usually gracious even when receiving negative feedback and they take it for what it is—the opinion of one person. They listen calmly to what is being said and decide whether to use it or discount it. But people who are low in confidence or self-esteem might have a tendency to respond to even positive feedback inappropriately. When someone compliments you, do you say, “It was nothing,” or “Anybody could have done it,” or “It really wasn’t that big of a deal?” This is unassertive, and it marks you as someone lacking in confidence.

It also discounts the feedback and the person who is giving it to you. When someone compliments you on a job well done and you say, “It was nothing,” you’re actually questioning the other person’s judgment. The appropriate response is, “Thank you,” adding, “Your feedback means a lot to me. I value your opinion.”

While you shouldn’t discount yourself or the other person by minimizing what you accomplished, you also shouldn’t over inflate positive feedback. Just take it for what it is: A comment on something you did well. Of course, negative feedback can feel like a personal attack, but you have to avoid taking it that way. In one of my favorite books, Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, the second of the four agreements is: “Don’t take anything personally.” Ruiz explains it this way: “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.”

This is great advice for dealing with negative feedback and why I always counsel my coaching clients to respond to negative feedback by acknowledging it and the person offering it by saying, “Thank you. I’ll work on that.” You are not committing to doing anything specific about it. In fact, you may choose to do nothing. But you may also choose to make some significant changes in your behavior. You can certainly enhance your image as a self-confident professional by responding appropriately to both positive and negative feedback. Here are three pieces of advice for dealing with the negative kind. Don’t get defensive: Don’t try to justify what you did or didn’t do. Listen and ask questions to make sure you completely understand what the other person is saying.

Don’t fight it: Accept the feedback, even if it makes you angry. Take time to reflect. You can always have another conversation if you think the feedback was inaccurate or unfair. You’ll be calmer and in a better position to make your points.

Listen attentively: Make sure the other person knows you’re paying attention through your relaxed body language, a steady gaze in your facial expression and friendly follow-up questions. We all experience negative feedback and criticism, which we hope will be constructive. How we deal with it can reveal, as much as any interpersonal situation we find ourselves in, whether we are confident, reasonable people.

  • Bud Bilanich

    Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy, is a success coach, motivational speaker, author and blogger. He is a faculty member at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver where he teaches courses in Organizational Dynamics and Human Capital Management. Bud has written five books on career and life success, which are the basis of his Common Sense Success System.

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