Take the quiz below to assess how you respond to criticism, then check out Dr. Boyes’ tips for handling feedback with aplomb.
Feedback helps people improve, but anxious people often avoid it because it can feel threatening. Avoiding feedback due to anxiety may lead to slower than optimal progress in attaining your goals. Also, if you’re closed off to feedback or react badly to it because of the anxiety it activates, your relationship with the feedback giver can become strained. This chapter will help you navigate these common issues.
Take the following quiz to see how fearful you are of criticism. Choose the answer that best applies. If no answer is the perfect fit, pick whichever is the closest.
1. You’re considering getting feedback on work you’ve produced. How likely are you to expect that any feedback will be negative?
(A) I usually expect to get good feedback because I perceive myself as generally competent.
(B) I feel nervous about a negative response but not paralyzed by it.
(C) I tend to assume feedback will be negative.
2. When your boss points out nine things you’re doing well and one valid area where you could improve, what’s your typical reaction?
(A) I plan some simple actions that will ensure continued good feedback.
(B) I feel happy that the feedback was positive overall, but the negative comment irks me a little.
(C) The one negative comment bugs me for several days or more.
3. How confident are you in your ability to cope with valid negative feedback?
(A) I believe in my capacity to make necessary adjustments.
(B) I suspect I’d ruminate for a while, but I know I’d get through it after a quiet night in with a glass of wine and a Netflix marathon.
(C) I think I’d be so hurt and embarrassed I’d find it difficult to face the feedback giver if/when I see that person again.
4. How prone to personalizing negative feedback are you?
(A) I don’t tend to personalize feedback.
(B) I personalize but I have enough self-awareness that I usually catch myself doing it.
(C) When I get negative feedback it feels like the person doesn’t like me rather than doesn’t like the work I’ve done.
5. How likely are you to avoid getting feedback on work you’ve produced?
(A) I don’t avoid feedback; I see it as useful.
(B) I avoid feedback in some, but not all, areas of my life.
(C) I get feedback only if I absolutely have to; I’d rather go to the dentist.
6. When someone acts strangely toward you and there’s no obvious reason why, what’s your typical reaction?
(A) I think, “It could be about them rather than about me. Since I might never know the reasons behind the behavior, there’s no point in overthinking it.”
(B) I worry I’ve done something to offend the person, and I try to be extra nice and easygoing to fix the situation. The worry bothers me for a few days.
(C) It bothers me a great deal; I spend days thinking about what the reason for the person’s behavior might have been.
7. When you ask someone if you look fat in your jeans, do you really want to know the answer?
(B) Yes, but I need the feedback giver to phrase their response delicately.
(C) Heck no.
Here’s how to interpret your scores. If you scored:
You generally think of feedback and criticism as helpful, and you’re not threatened by it. If you feel a sting of disappointment when you get negative feedback, you’re able to see this in context, without making a mountain out of a molehill. You perceive yourself as able to cope with feedback because you’ve done this successfully in the past. You’re adept at taking feedback and making the necessary changes. You don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that negative feedback means someone doesn’t like you.
You’re a bit prone to expecting that feedback will be negative. When you get mostly positive feedback with a few negatives thrown in, you tend to take the negatives to heart. While in many instances you can accept that feedback isn’t personal, sometimes you get caught up in personalizing.
Receiving feedback is extremely anxiety provoking for you. It makes you feel exposed and incredibly vulnerable. You expect feedback will be negative and don’t feel confident in your ability to fix problems highlighted by a feedback process. Negative feedback feels like a personal attack. You avoid getting feedback because it sends you into rumination mode and you find it difficult to break free. You’re so fearful of feedback, you’ll avoid opportunities if they will involve more exposure to it.
Tips for Dealing With Criticism
1. Train your brain.
Train your brain to recognize the possibilities that something might not be personal. For example, if you’re already feeling anxious, overhear part of a conversation, and start thinking people are talking about you, remind yourself that you may be jumping to conclusions due to your background anxious feelings.
2. Practice getting feedback.
Negative feedback is easier to swallow if you think the feedback giver has a positive perception of you overall. Practice getting feedback from someone you know believes in you. This will help you start to feel more comfortable and react less defensively.
3. Get small amounts of feedback.
If getting feedback is difficult for you, you can just ask for little bits of feedback at a time. For example, if you’re launching a product and getting feedback from 100 people feels overwhelming, get feedback from one person initially. This approach allows you to have time to process the feedback and emotionally recover. You’ll learn from experience that you can cope with feedback.
4. Recognize that sensitivity to feedback is a feature, not a flaw.
We’re wired to care what other people think. It stops us from behaving badly in ways that would lead to social exclusion, which in our evolutionary environment was dangerous for survival. Many naturally sensitive people don’t find it useful to be told “Just stop caring what other people think.” Wanting to be liked and accepted is adaptive overall.