Why are criticism and feedback so hard to take?
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the corporate environment or at home with your nearest and dearest, hearing negative feedback about yourself seems to hit hard, and can shatter the way you thought things worked in an instant.
The reason criticism hits us so hard is that it often impacts us on the level of the ego emotions: doubt, shame & embarrassment, vulnerability, fear, guilt and anger, as well as on the physiological level through shock.
The Ego Emotions
So as we’re sitting there hearing the negative feedback, we begin to doubt – our abilities, ourselves as people, our likability, our sense belonging.
We feel shame and want to cringe in embarrassment when someone mentions a fault we thought was hidden or, even worse, we didn’t know we had.
We feel vulnerable and exposed, as if the person was attacking us directly, and that makes us scared – for our lives, our jobs, our sense security.
We feel guilty because we could have done more or we know we haven’t been performing at our best. Perhaps we project that guilt onto our bosses and coworkers – assigning blame to them instead of facing the consequences of accepting responsibility ourselves.
Finally there is probably anger – anger at the self for not being good enough, anger at other parties for not offering enough support, guidance, time, care, understanding.
It’s all about ME!
The last thing that engaging the ego does is that it makes it personal – this is not designed to help the person, it’s obviously an attack designed to break them down.
So, even though from a management point of view you’re just being efficient and maintaining distance, the person will perceive it as an attack because their Ego is engaged.
The thing about your body perceiving it as an attack though – well your body is going to respond as if it’s being attacked.
…and a Physiological Emotion
The physiological emotion that comes into play? Shock.
You know how when you’re watching a scary movie and you catch yourself jumping at something that happened on the screen – perhaps even screaming out loud? Well your body and mind are not necessarily designed to know the difference between what you imagine or watch and what you actually experience.
As far as your mind is concerned, if your eyes saw it and your ears heard it then it must be real – seeing is believing after all.
So basically what you’re experiencing is a fight or flight or panic response when you watch a scary movie. You feel scared because your mind thinks you’re going through this to a degree and your system is genuinely scared.
The thing about a physiological emotion is that you have no control over it: it floods through your body causing all manner of physical reactions that you can’t seem to stop: your hands get warm and clammy, your throat closes up, everything gets louder, brighter and colder, you may experience cold and hot flushes; you definitely experience that gut churning surge that starts in your tummy.
Sure it gives you great eyesight and hearing and the ability to take nice big breaths so that you can run fast – but it also activates your terrestrial or primitive brain, when you actually need your forebrain activated in order to be able to think and communicate coherently.
Two Levels of Fear
What you must understand here is that you’re now battling fear on two levels: the terrestrial, instinctual or physical level with the chemical reaction of the stress hormones and you’ve engaged the fear of the Ego, which is an attack on the emotional, mental and spiritual planes.
Tackling the physical response is actually a lot simpler than what you’d think. If the person is already having a shock experience and you want to stop the flow of hormones in their body, then this physical shock release process will give enormous and immediate relief in most cases. It’s also a great exercise to do regularly and vigorously if you’re prone to carrying your weight around your gut.
A second approach would be to employ a calming technique before you go into the meeting, such as the Quick Coherence Technique from HeartMath, available as a free download on the Life Coaches Toolbox website, or even the BodyTalk Cortices Tapping Technique, which can be taught easily in under a minute.
These techniques will settle your energy and improve your focus, and if undertaken together by all the participants in the forum, will actively encourage coherence and entrainment, which will automatically result in better communication and flow of dialogue, as well as an increased sense of positivity.
Read more about coherence and entrainment at HeartMath
The Second Level of Fear
The Ego level of fear can stem from a number of places and events, from what we learned and experienced growing up to our own sense or lack of self worth to errant belief systems, generational patterns and even active memories.
When we’re younger, often the only time we get feedback and criticism is under a negative experience, a pattern that continues into adulthood and the workplace. One way to tackle this therefore is through your communication and delivery style.
In NeuroLinguistic Programming one of the presuppositions, a core belief you work from, is that the meaning of your communication is the response you get.
The essence of what’s important to understand here is that it’s not necessarily about your delivery being wrong, it’s that it’s wrong for the person’s level of understanding.
Luckily, the effects of using any of the tools listed above will make communication and dialogue flow more easily because your systems are aligned and working together coherently.
This combined with basic adjustments to your physical communication delivery style and vocabulary will make feedback sessions and meetings flow much more smoothly.