Sometimes it can be difficult to take feedback in. Sometimes what makes it challenging is the way that the feedback is offered. In other cases, though, I find that it has more to do with our attaching our worth to the feedback. One of my clients is working toward having broader visibility in his organization. He’d recently had the opportunity to present at a company-wide meeting, something he’d not done before. After having given me his perspective on the event, I asked what feedback he’d gotten. He didn’t have much to go on as he hadn’t asked anyone. When we dug into why that was, he explained that it is hard for him to take in feedback because he feels it’s tied to his self-worth. I’m curious if that rings true for you too?

Here’s the thing, without feedback, we cannot improve. While it might sting in the moment…I don’t know too many people who are eager to hear that they didn’t hit it out of the park…it does help us to course correct so that we can do a better job next time.

So, how do we reduce the sting? Remember that the feedback is about what you did, not who you are. It is simply information that you can choose (or not) to integrate into your behavior going forward. Let me offer a few examples to illustrate my point.

  • You turn in a report to your boss and she points out a mistake in one of the calculations. Do you think, “How could I have made such a dumb mistake?!? She must think I’m an idiot.” Or, do you think, “Wish I hadn’t made that mistake. Glad she caught it. I’ll put some steps in place to be more thorough going forward.”

  • You present a business case to the senior leadership team and they turn it down, noting that the business need was not clear and compelling. Do you think, “I failed. I couldn’t even make my case to the leadership team.” Or, do you think, “I wasn’t able to get this issue resolved this time, but I think I have a better understanding of what the leadership team is looking for.”

  • The project lead calls you about a missed deadline for a project you are working on. Do you fall into, “He must think I’m completely incompetent.” Or, do you think, “Next time I’ll do a better job of mapping out my deliverables and keeping him in the loop on my progress.”

As noted above, a quick way to know whether you are tying the feedback to your self-worth is when you begin the phrase with, “I am…” or when you take in feedback that starts with “You are…”. Think back through these examples again. You made a mistake. You are not a mistake. You failed to get the business case approved. You are not a failure. You didn’t handle your piece of the project competently. You are not incompetent. When you are able to remind yourself that this is feedback about my performance, not feedback about myself, you are better able to take it in as information that you can use as you think about your performance moving forward.