Today is part two of my wellness series on accepting critical feedback as a strategy for reducing the suffering of others. I want to thank Dr. Alana Fields for consulting on the content for this series! Last week, we considered the ways in which refusing the accept the realities and experiences of others can be extremely harmful. This week, I want to offer a few strategies for coping with critical feedback that may help you avoid the urge to engage in potentially harmful behaviors (e.g., defensiveness, denial, lashing out, avoidance). These are strategies that may increase your distress in the short-term but are likely to help decrease distress over the long-term because they act in service of helping you avoid impulsive reactions in favor of more values-directed responses that will help you feel good about how you handled the situation even though it may have been hard in the moment.
1. Ask to take a pause. For some of us, emotional reactions can come on quicky and feel very intense. If this is your experience, consider asking to take a pause in the conversation so that you can process the feedback you’ve been given before you respond. This strategy allows you space to have your reaction and decide how best to proceed before responding.
2. Educate yourself using reputable and appropriate materials or supports. When we are given feedback that we’re not doing a good job at something, it can be helpful to educate ourselves about the best practices in that area. When you do this, make sure that you seek education from appropriate sources (e.g., books, courses, paid/professional experts and consultants, mentors, etc.) and avoid asking people from oppressed and repressed groups to engage in the emotional labor of educating you for free.
3. Get feedback from a trusted source. Once you think you have a plan for how you want to respond to the feedback you’ve been given, seek feedback on your plan from someone you trust and respect. This should be a person who has experience with the types of issues you are having and who will tell you the truth (even when the truth hurts).
4. Focus on repairing harm and learning. It’s important to remember that sometimes even a kind response can put more stress and burden on the other person. Apologize, but also check in with them to see if they have the capacity to discuss the situation with you. Check in with yourself to ensure that you are sharing what you learned and how you will do better rather than rationalizing your behavior.
5. Reflect on your values. Ask yourself, “who do I want to be and how would that person handle this situation?” Consider how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
6. If you are really stuck, consider the pros and cons of accepting vs. denying reality. Considering pros and cons can be helpful in thinking through what it is that we are afraid will happen if we accept that the critical feedback is true. This strategy also has the added benefit of reducing emotion dysregulation by helping us engage with the more rational side of our minds (i.e., directing energy away from the amygdala and into the prefrontal cortex).