By Roi Ben Yehuda
As someone who speaks in front of people for a living, I fully understand the sting of a bad review. No matter how many people think you did well, or how many positive comments you received, less than stellar feedback enters your mind like an uninvited guest munching on your self-esteem.
Psychologists call this a negativity bias, our tendency to give significantly more weight and attention to negative rather than positive experiences. Studies have shown that this bias is apparent in infants as young as 7 months. Now before you judge your brain for being such a downer, keep in mind that the negativity bias helped us survive as a species. If your ancestors did not have a keen eye for dangers and threats (“Watch out! Tiger!”), you would not be here.
That said, the very-same bias that helped us evolve as a species, now often prevents us from growing as individuals. So thank you very much for your service you little pessimist bias, but it’s time to say goodbye (unless of course you work with tigers, in which case ignore this recommendation).
So how can we bounce back from a negative feedback? Music, sweet music, to the rescue. Here are 5 songs for your negative feedback mixtape:
1. Adopt a “Fighter” mindset:
Cause it makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks …
Having a fighter’s mentality is not about being defensive or aggressive. It’s about having a mindset that helps you grow from adversity. Instead of being brought down by bad news, instead of just accepting things, a fighter’s mindset turns crap into fertilizer.
With the right mindset, every piece of feedback is an opportunity to grow.
Action: Before receiving feedback, Check Yo Self (yes, I could have used that song too). Make sure you are entering the conversation with a mindset that’s open to listening and learning. You can even have your own secret reminder (one of my favorite kinesthetic moves is opening up a clenched fist as a reminder to stay open). Oh, and don’t forget to say thanks.
2. See your obstacles clearly.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Johnny Nash reminds us that while hardships blind us, we can gain insight into our situation and turn things around. To “see clearly” we must extract the learning (i.e. “obstacles in our way”) and plan how to move forward.
Action: Next time you encounter negative feedback, challenge yourself to come up with at least three lessons you can pull out of the experience to get to that bright sun-shiny day.
3. Find a Feedback Hero
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life!
Bonnie Tyler is onto a perennial and mythic truth: we all need a hero in life, someone extraordinary who can give us guidance and strength. From a feedback perspective that is someone who handles feedback well: they are open, they listen, they ask questions, they regulate emotions, they learn, and follow up.
Action: Find a person who can be your feedback hero. It does not matter if you know them in real-life or not. Then, next time you get tough feedback, ask yourself how that person would handle this situation. Do as they do.
4. Make an Armstrong list
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you
Back in 1967, Louis Armstrong knew what science would later tell us: namely, getting in the habit of noticing all the wonderful things in your life is a recipe for happiness. It’s also one of the greatest antidotes to the negativity bias.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, I had a tough workshop. Afterwards, my partner texted me to ask how my day was going. I typed “terrible!” Then I slowed down and thought, “Is it really terrible?” I proceeded to make a list in my head of all the positive things that happened that day:
Had a tasty breakfast with my partner and baby.
Broke my personal record exercising. Prime of my health.
Read a chapter in a book that I have been wanting to read.
Got offered a free and tasty lunch (apparently such a thing exists).
Got a chance to be asked difficult questions.
Met a really interesting Israeli taxi driver.
Got a chance (eventually) to vent to my partner.
Having done that (plus extracting five lessons from my session), my frustration lifted.
Action: Next time you feel really frustrated by negative feedback, take in the good and make an Armstrong list of all the positive things you experienced that very day. It doesn’t hurt to also share that list with someone else.
5. Create a shake it off ritual
Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Let’s face it, there are times when the feedback you receive is confusing, misdirected, and/or comes from a place of anger. In those cases, you need to follow Tae Tae and just shake it off.
But how do we know if we are not just dismissing comments that feel bad but are actually true? That is why you have to follow step 2 on the list and see if there is anything to learn from the feedback you received.
Action: Create a shake it off ritual. My favorite comes from Bruce Lee. When the martial arts superstar (whom I named my first-born after) was asked how he handles criticism, Lee said that he imagines the criticism on a 4X4 card and asks himself: “Can I learn from this? If yes, then extract the learning. But if no, then burn that card and let it go. Forever.”
So let’s put this all together. When negative feedback is getting you down:
Channel your inner Christina Aguilera and adopt a fighter’s mindset.
Open your eyes like Johnny Nash and see your obstacles clearly.
Find a Bonnified Tyler-inspired feedback hero you can emulate.
Create an Armstrong list that brings gratitude and perspective.
Swiftly shake it off when dealing with misdirected feedback.