Feedback Is Free. If It Can Serve You, Why Not Take It?

Male teacher seated at a table with a studentPersonal growth, self-awareness, and enhanced insight can emerge from a number of different sources. We can experience a transformative event that reshapes how we perceive something or feel about an issue. Time spent in meditation, journaling, or spiritual reflection can reveal dynamics not previously considered. A catalyst for personal change can develop from reading or watching something that strikes us in a new way.

But personal growth doesn’t have to occur in isolation; another way in which personal growth can occur is through feedback we get from others. Feedback from others is great because it provides us with an outside perspective. Spending months or years in a dysfunctional relationship, maintaining the status quo at work, or contemplating a serious decision can lead to a sense of inertia. A view from the outside can offer a fresh and objective perspective that can motivate us to change.

Feedback from others can provide us with options we may not have considered. Tunnel vision is real. We get so stuck in a routine or pattern that we lose sight of other options and creative solutions. Questions and statements such as “Have you considered …” or “When I faced this issue I …” are simple ways to expand our perspective and advance our personal growth.

The problem we are facing might not be our strength, but might be the strength of someone else. When someone we know is an expert in the area we are struggling in, why spend time stressing over it when that person may have a solution at the ready? Additionally, simply by allowing someone to provide feedback, our relationships can improve. Consider how difficult it is for someone to challenge us with feedback. The person risks offending us, hurting our feelings, or making us upset. It is a risk to say to someone, “I think you were wrong in this situation,” “It seems like you are taking the easy way out,” or “I am really concerned about the decisions you are making.” The person providing the feedback must really care about us to challenge us in this way, otherwise they would not even bother to give us the feedback.

Feedback from others is great because it provides us with an outside perspective. Spending months or years in a dysfunctional relationship, maintaining the status quo at work, or contemplating a serious decision can lead to a sense of inertia. A view from the outside can offer a fresh and objective perspective that can motivate us to change.

Yet, despite all the benefits, feedback can be difficult to receive. It can be challenging to accept that someone else sees something in us we have not seen in ourselves. Consider what happens when a friend points out our relationship patterns, as in, “Have you noticed you date the same type of person?” We might become defensive or feel embarrassed for not realizing it ourselves, or for having it pointed out to us.

Feedback can be challenging if we are in denial. Perhaps we can’t handle the truth. Take the example of getting feedback that you are partly at fault for the continued feud between you and a sibling. When you have spent months or years villainizing your sibling, you might deny any responsibility you have. If we accept responsibility, it means we also have to accept our part in changing the relationship.

Comparing our issues to the person who is giving us feedback can get in the way of receiving good feedback. Consider getting relationship or parenting advice from a friend or family member who has their own relationship or child-rearing woes. It would be easy to write the feedback off as useless; after all, what could they possibly know about relationships or parenting? However, when the feedback is directed at you, it is not about the other person. Perhaps your friend or family member could benefit from feedback themselves, but in the moment the focus of the feedback is you. Feedback can be helpful even if the source of the feedback is imperfect.

4 Strategies for Receiving Feedback

  1. Respond immediately. There are pros and cons to responding in the moment. The pros include engaging in a fruitful dialogue that advances your self-awareness or insight and directly addressing any confusion or questions you have about the feedback. A con to immediately responding is that our defenses may be triggered and we can be closed to the feedback before we allow ourselves the opportunity to fully process it.
  2. Reflect and revisit. Someone who provides us with feedback has had more time to prepare their thoughts than maybe we have. It is OK to take time to reflect on the feedback prior to commenting, but then return later to the topic to more thoroughly process. Taking time to process feedback can help prevent a defensive reaction that leads to future problems. This is a good process for work-related feedback. Say, for instance, that your boss suggests that the manner in which you communicate with coworkers has caused issues with team productivity. If you respond defensively, you are just providing support to your boss’ initial concerns.
  3. Accept it. The feedback could be spot-on. Hear it, take it in, and accept it. I was provided with feedback on how to handle a marital situation by my mother. Without extensive questions or consideration, I acknowledged that what she saw was accurate, accepted the feedback, and implemented suggestions. No extensive dialogue was necessary.
  4. Let it go. Some feedback can be accepted for being just that, feedback. We do not have to do anything with it. We can appreciate someone taking the time to provide the feedback, but just because they give us feedback doesn’t mean we have to do anything with it. When someone suggests we could do something in a different way, but the way we are doing it is not harmful, wrong, or bad, we can hear the feedback and let it go. If someone tells you your running stride can be better if you raise your knees higher, but you are just glad you are able to run in the first place, let that feedback go.

Next time someone provides you with feedback, consider how you can use it for personal growth. And if it’s good feedback, hey, it’s free. Why not take it?

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kimber Shelton, PhD, therapist in Duncanville, Texas

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 5 comments
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  • Allie

    Allie

    February 29th, 2016 at 10:40 AM

    I agree with this up to a certain point
    and then you have to consider that there are some just throwing shade and making it look like it is something positive but really they are throwing it your way that you are doing something wrong and they just happen to be the perfect person to point that out to you.
    All I’m saying is be careful because it is sometimes those “free” things that wind up costing you the most.

  • andrew

    andrew

    February 29th, 2016 at 2:53 PM

    No matter how much most of us say that we want feedback, what we really mean is that we want it if it is something that is positive.

    If it looks like we need to improve on something that one can be a little more difficult to hear.

  • Tracey

    Tracey

    March 2nd, 2016 at 8:17 AM

    And for me it is often that I have to look at who this is coming from. If it someone that I admire and respect then I will be more likely to take that to heart than I would be from someone that I only knew casually.

  • tate

    tate

    March 5th, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    Even the people who pay other people to advise them and offer feedback and criticism have a hard time taking it.
    It is something that most of us have trouble with, having someone else tell us what we are doing wrong even when it is being give to you from a point of view that is meant to be helpful. There are very few people who are strong enough to see it that way at the beginning.
    You might can learn to accept this as you become a stronger person, but for most of us it can be quite difficult.

  • Rod P

    Rod P

    March 7th, 2016 at 6:58 AM

    It seems that I work with a bunch of goofs who not only don’t want any constructive criticism about the job that they do, but they also have this need to screw things up rather than ask for help so that they can do it right the first time!

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