Receiving feedback on performance: How to conquer the stress and maximize the value

Receiving feedback on performance is an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s also an opportunity to strengthen a working relationship. But so often it doesn’t really feel like that!

Feedback about your successes can be a pleasure, but too often receiving feedback feels uncomfortable, awkward, stressful.

Imagine the situation: you’re in a 1-1 with your manager. Perhaps they shift in their seat a little, or their tone of voice changes. “There is just one last thing I’d like to talk about” they say. There is a moment of tension, your alarm bells start to ring.

You’ve probably experienced something similar. Here are 6 steps for taking the feedback opportunity and making it work for you.

Receiving feedback on performance: your mindset

These first 3 steps relate to mindset. All 3 steps can be required very quickly at the start of a feedback conversation. Sometimes within a few seconds! They’re also important through-out the feedback conversation.

1. When you receive feedback, embrace ‘positive intent’

There are two sides to positive intent: yours and theirs.

Trust that the person giving you feedback has positive intent. They may be anxious themselves, or they may lack the skills for giving effective feedback. But if you trust they have positive intent, it becomes much easier to cut through all that and accept what they have to say. As soon as you start doubting their motives, and questioning why they’re saying what they’re saying, your mind will become much more closed to the opportunity.

But what happens if you don’t trust their intentions?

Embrace your own positive intent. Be willing to suspend your concerns for a moment and be open to the opportunity to learn. Even if you doubt the person’s motives, you can still stay on the right track yourself, and look for what you can learn.

This will take practice: you need to train your brain to recognize that ‘feedback = opportunity’. Every time you receive feedback on performance, make a conscious effort to acknowledge this equation and it will slowly become easier. These growth mindset activities for adults will help.

2. Keep tabs on your ‘internal chatter’

You can think much quicker than other people can talk. That leaves plenty of ‘mental bandwidth’ for internal chatter (or for becoming a better listener, if you’re using the bandwidth right!). Save some of this bandwidth for keeping tabs on your internal conversation.

Learn to recognize when your thoughts are turning negative and make a conscious effort to return your thoughts to the opportunity of learning from the feedback.

3. Recognize your physical responses to stress

Your internal chatter can trigger instant, instinctive, physical responses.

When you’re starting to feel stressed and under threat, your body responds. Adrenaline floods your body, ready for fight or flight. This is helpful if you’re facing a physical threat, but not so great when you’re in the office. (Unfortunately, your instinctive responses can’t distinguish between real and imaginary threats!)

We’ve all experienced some of the consequences of an unwanted adrenaline rush in the office:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Prickly neck
  • Feeling flushed
  • Quicker breathing
  • Speaking more rapidly or with a ‘squeaky’ voice

The effect of the adrenaline is to drain the blood away from your brain (which is where you really need it!) and push it out into your limbs and extremities, ready for fight or flight. Also, your breathing becomes more rapid (and therefore shallower) to oxygenate your blood, ready for action.

And if you’re feeling threatened and low on power, you may also cross our arms and make yourself small in your seat. All to signal you’re not a threat. (This video from Amy Cudy is a great introduction to body language and its role in communication).

Learn to recognize your own early warning signs of stress. Spotting them early will give you more control over how to respond.

Receiving feedback on performance: your skillset

4. If you’re stressed, you can regain control

Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for the person giving you feedback on your performance. If you’re leaking tension and negative emotions that’s not going to help you.

When you spot your early warning signs of stress, take action to regain control. This may include:

  • Relaxing your shoulders
  • Slower, deeper breathing
  • Relaxing your voice (take a breath, returning to your normal pace, relax the muscles in your neck)
  • ‘Uncrossing’ yourself, if you’ve adopted a defensive posture

By taking these actions you’ll regain control of your stress response. The adrenaline will drain away, and you’ll return back to balance. There’s more here on the relaxation response for reversing stress.

And here’s more on how to deal with stress.

5. Ask appreciative questions

Once you’re back in control, you can focus on asking appreciative questions to better understand the value of the feedback.

These questions are appreciative because of the phrases you use around the question, and the light and inquisitive tone that you use to ask them (you can do that, now that you’re back in control!).

Ask questions to clarify your understanding, for example:

Thank you for picking up that I looked a bit rushed in the meeting. Could you help me understand what this looked like, what exactly was I doing that made me look rushed?

Ask questions to identify patterns, for example:

Is this something that I usually do, or is this just a one-off?

Ask questions to seek solutions, for example:

Thank you, what are your thoughts on how I should handle this in future?

These questions will allow you to evaluate the feedback and balance it against other feedback that you’ve received.

It’s important to note you don’t have to act on feedback. Your responsibility is to evaluate the feedback, then decide if and how to apply what you’ve learnt. And if you do take action, you own it. The path forward is your responsibility.

6. Finally, remember to build the relationship

I started this article by noting that receiving feedback is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and grow and to strengthen a working relationship.

Don’t be so focused on the feedback that you forget to take the opportunity to build the relationship.

Thank the person who has given you the feedback. Reflect on what they’ve said and get back to them at a later date to share with them what action you took as a result, and the outcome. (Or, if you choose to take no action, explain your thinking… they may provide further insight.)

Receiving feedback on performance is such a great opportunity, you may want to learn how to request feedback from coworkers.

Being proactive is a great way to help you gain control and confidence.

Receiving feedback on performance: in summary

Receiving feedback on performance is an opportunity that you can master. Here are the 6 steps:

Mindset

  • When you receive feedback, embrace ‘positive intent’
  • Keep tabs on your internal chatter
  • Recognize your physical responses to stress

Skillset

  • If you’re feeling stressed, regain control
  • Ask appreciative questions
  • Finally, remember to build the relationship too

Keep these steps in mind and recall them each time you receive feedback on performance, you’ll quickly conquer the stress and maximize the opportunity!

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