What to do when feedback is hurtful

by | May 29, 2023 | Ask Rhonda, Communication, Efficiency, Help Me Rhonda, Management, Office Solutions, Positive attitude, Tips

We all need feedback and learn from the good and the not-so-good feedback. I intellectually get it, but when I receive critical feedback, I often take it personally and am hurt by it. I know I shouldn’t, but it often stings as I’ve taken the feedback personally.

 Years ago, when I was a newer presenter, I received feedback on my appearance. The participant felt the need to tell me I needed a haircut and to stop dressing like my mother. I’ve been told (more than once) that I am far too direct in my communication and can be “a bee with an itch” (you can figure that out). My old executive told me once that I could try harder so that I could do more. Last week I received some hurtful feedback from my #AdminsRock conference and was told that the t-shirts I sent all participants were cheap and not worth even wearing.

 I can defend my thought process and results in each of those situations. I was growing out my bangs, my outfit was professional and looked good, my style of communication didn’t make me a bee with an itch, I wasn’t too direct, and I legitimately put in a lot of effort and time into my job and was trying hard, and the t-shirts were 100% cotton, were not cheap, and I wear mine all the time.


The bottom line; each one hurt me.


But can we learn from the situation? Can I learn from the feedback by looking past how it made me feel?

 Feedback is an essential part of the learning process. It helps us understand what we are doing well and where to improve. However, not all feedback is created equal, and some can be hurtful and destructive.

 It is tempting to ignore hurtful feedback or become defensive. However, to learn and grow, we must find a way to process the information constructively.

 Here are five tips for what to do when feedback is hurtful. Learn to receive feedback constructively, how to respond productively, and how to use feedback to improve.


  1. Give yourself permission to feel hurt


It’s okay to feel hurt by feedback. Our feelings are valid, and we don’t have to ignore them. It’s also okay to express our feelings when receiving feedback. We don’t have to minimize our pain or hold it in.

 Imagine you entered your annual performance review expecting to hear that you’ve done an outstanding job in the past year. You have copies of appreciation notes from colleagues, and you’ve created a portfolio to list how you’ve far exceeded expectations.

 The review starts with a lengthy list of all the things that didn’t go according to plan over the past year. Instead of hearing great feedback, you were shaken immediately to find that your executive has been focusing on all the negatives instead of the positives.

 It’s okay to be hurt when you find out someone else’s perception of the situation differs significantly from yours. Give yourself time to process the information that has blindsided you. Avoiding or denying your feelings does not make you productive.

 Take a step back and look at the feedback objectively. We don’t have to simply accept the feedback at face value or internalize it. We can question it, ask for clarification, or even disagree with it. We don’t have to accept all criticism as truth.


  1. Ask yourself what can you learn from the feedback


Sometimes, when criticism is hard to take, it can seem like an attack. But it’s important to try and find the lesson within it. Even if the feedback is hurtful, there’s usually a nugget of truth that can help us grow and improve.

 The truth is that criticism is often a learning opportunity. It can help us to expand our knowledge, challenge our assumptions, and develop skills that may be lacking. It can also help us identify areas of improvement and allow us to do our best work.

 So, instead of being hurt by feedback, focus on what you can learn. Recognize that the feedback may come from someone who has experienced or seen something you haven’t. This is a valuable chance to gain new insights and to grow from the feedback.

 Asking yourself what you can learn from a negative performance evaluation is important. I realized I put too much value in the personalization of gifts in the SWAG box for the conference, and not everyone values the same things I do. I listen to my communication to ensure I am coming across appropriately and hear the message from the other point of view before I deliver it.


  1. Phone a friend


Talk to someone you trust to support you. Permit yourself to have a friend be a sounding board in helping you process what really was said. Having the chance to sound out your thoughts and feelings can put things into perspective. This friend can offer different views on interpreting the feedback you received.

 Talking can often be the easiest and most effective way to deal with negative feedback. This could provide you with the insight and the clarity you need to put the feedback into perspective, move through it and grow in the process.

 When I was given hurtful feedback on my outfit, I did ask a few friends what they thought and if I needed to change my fashion style. They assured me the suit I was wearing was professional, flattering, and appropriate, and besides, my mother had great taste in outfits (humor is often helpful). They promised me I didn’t look frumpy and gave me a new perspective on how to interpret the feedback.


  1. Give yourself time


Giving yourself time is a critical element in dealing with hurtful feedback. Taking the time to process that feedback will allow you to understand it and think critically about it.

 Take a few steps back from the situation and spend some time away. If it is helpful, write about it. Giving yourself time allows you to step away from your emotions and gain clarity.

 Take a break to reflect on your conversation and, most importantly, your feelings about the situation. Permit yourself to take the time to think and process the conversation that happened.


  1. Gain clarity and create your action plan


By gaining clarity on the feedback, the intent, the perspective, and what you need to do to move forward is your action plan to get past the hurtful feedback.

 Creating a plan is a great way to help you focus and stay on the right track. This plan should include any goals, changes, or adjustments needed.

 Your plan also allows you to identify those areas that need improvement or be followed up on.

 And, at times, your plan needs to include a follow-up conversation.

 Creating a plan can help you regain control of a situation, giving you the means to take charge when faced with hurtful feedback. It also sets you up for success, giving you a clear pathway towards your goals.

 Reaching out to the person who gave you the feedback can often be part of your plan. This allows you to explain your thoughts and feelings and understand their perspective. Together you can work on recommendations or improvements.

 While I can’t follow up with those that submitted anonymous feedback, I can create a plan to ensure this hurtful feedback doesn’t happen again. After my review, I spoke to my executive to clarify what he meant by “try harder” so that I could do more. What more was he expecting me to do? I asked all participants what they would like to see in next year’s SWAG box instead. I asked others if they felt the t-shirts were cheap and if I should not consider other personalized items moving forward.

 You could clarify the intent for any hurtful feedback you received by asking the sender questions. This allows you to discuss the issue in more detail and identify the changes you feel are appropriate.

 Ultimately, the willingness to have this follow-up discussion will be the most valuable part of the hurtful feedback. It could repair a damaged relationship and clarify your understanding or intent of the feedback.

 Ask them for recommendations on improving the work they have commented on. This allows you to discuss your work in more detail and determine how to make necessary changes.

 By having an open dialogue with the person who gave the feedback, you have the opportunity to make progress with the project and build a relationship that can be beneficial in the future.

 By following these five steps, you’ll manage to learn from any hurtful feedback you receive and maintain relationships and trust at the same time.

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HOF, Global Speaking Fellow

Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame

Rhonda Scharf, renowned and award-winning speaker, author, consultant, and trainer, is the “go-to” expert for the Administrative Professional and Executive Assistant community. With over 250,000+ trained across the globe, Rhonda is THE authority for fun and uplifting education for admins, because #ADMINSROCK!


Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HOF, Global Speaking Fellow

Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame

Rhonda Scharf, renowned and award-winning speaker, author, consultant, and trainer, is the “go-to” expert for the Administrative Professional and Executive Assistant community. With over 250,000+ trained across the globe, Rhonda is THE authority for fun and uplifting education for admins, because #ADMINSROCK!