How do you like to receive feedback? Some of us like straightforward, others gently and politely, others don't really care as long as there are some positive aspects in there as well.
I remember when I was studying at university in Portugal and some professors used to be very direct with their negative feedback; no padding... Some would try to add a bit of positive elements afterwards though not everyone did so. It was mostly direct and negative upfront. It felt very hard sometimes; my ego suffered with the reflection of those comments on my sense of self-worth!
Then I spent some years in the UK. Negative feedback was never ever given before some positive elements were introduced first, and even then it would be given in a very soft way; you could almost miss it if you did not know how to 'read in between the lines' at least a bit. Initially, it surprised me and pleased me (it was so different from the normal Portuguese style I was used to), but then I confess I started getting anxious to 'get the fluff out of the way and just give it to me'; I sort of felt like I had to wait a whole 20-30 minutes before we got to the point.
For a while I also worked in an international political-diplomatic context, and it was almost fun to see how most could play with words (no matter their national background) in such a way that a critique could be delivered as if it were a compliment! You would be left wondering which one it was; really! ;)
Now in the Netherlands things are very different again: the Dutch are well-known for their directness in most things, and sharing negative feedback is no exception. However, it did feel different; maybe it was mostly because I was more mature and my ego more under control, but it was easier not to take it as something personal. With time, it was easy to see that they were going for honesty and efficiency; it was not personal at all!
We each have our preferred way of receiving - and giving - feedback, however, what we often don’t realise is that most of these preferences are directly related to our cultural and educational background and experiences so far.
Once you cross borders (or work in a multicultural team), the default way to give and receive feedback can be quite different from the one you were initially used to.
In my case, I have now developed a mixed style based on multiple sources.
If Geert Hofstede was among the first to study some of these cultural dimensions, I just loved how Erin Meyer explained it all in her book "The Culture Map", noting the propensity of some country to being more or less direct in how they gave negative feedback (was there any positive in the mix?) while balancing it with whether it was given explicitly or implicitly (low/high context; any 'reading in between the lines'?).
So how can you find your way among all this? How should you deal with such a wide variety of feedback in a healthy and productive way?
Here are 5 tips based on scientific insights to help you!
Research in psychology emphasizes the importance of emotional regulation and resilience in coping with negative feedback. This means it is important to understand and acknowledge your emotions, but strive to regulate them effectively. Cultivate resilience by focusing on the bigger picture, learning from the feedback, and viewing it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.
Not all feedback is given in a helpful way and most of us have never really learn about the best way to do it. Constructive feedback provides specific, actionable information that can lead to improvement. If you are on the receiving end and you feel it is too generic (or even personal), you can encourage those providing feedback (ask them!) to be specific about areas for improvement, what are the concrete action you could do differently in the future? This will allow you to address specific issues and make meaningful changes.
Cognitive restructuring involves changing negative thought patterns to promote a healthier way of thinking. Identify and challenge negative thoughts associated with the feedback. So, consider alternative and/or more positive interpretations; take cultural differences and default feedback styles into consideration. This approach helps you reframe the feedback in a way that is less emotionally charged and more conducive to growth.
More, studies on learning and memory actually highlight the importance of (constructive) feedback in the learning process. It helps us to learn better and faster. Try to always look at negative feedback as a valuable learning opportunity (what is the gift and opportunity in it?). Understand that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process and use the feedback to adapt and improve your skills or performance.
The role of social support in coping with stress and adversity has been widely acknowledged in social psychology research. The most successful people are not 'lone rangers'. Seek support from friends, mentors, or colleagues. Discussing the feedback with others can provide different perspectives and insights. Social support can also help alleviate the emotional impact of negative feedback and provide encouragement to move forward.
We all love to hear positive feedback; no issues there! Dealing with negative feedback however is a skill that can be developed over time.
I hope all your negative feedback is delivered in a constructive way but, even if it is not, manage your emotions, don't extrapolate from specific feedback about a task you did to your overall sense of worth or your capacity as a professional. Everyone screws up sometimes and we all have areas for improvement. Grab that chance to learn and grow both personally and professionally!