Why “Don’t Take It Personally” Is Useless Advice And What To Do Instead

We all know feedback is critical in career development. It helps you grow. It highlights things you didn’t know about yourself. We get it. And receiving positive feedback is always nice. A thank you or a great job does wonders for me if I am having a rough day. But the “constructive” feedback…?

When someone starts off with “Don’t take this personally, but…” alarm bells go off in my head and I am bracing for what is about to come next.

Unlike grades on an exam, constructive feedback about your work or abilities feels personal. How do you not take it personally? Some people have a “thick” skin. Most of us don’t. And a lot of people I know pretend not to care, but they do.

So how do you overcome the fear of getting feedback? A while back, a friend told me about a strategy she uses. While it doesn’t remove the sting completely, it has helped me in getting over that part more quickly. So here is the tip:

Every time you get feedback, critique the feedback. Just like you would review a book or product. Ask yourself:

  1. Is the person really qualified to give me that feedback? Do they have the right intentions?
  2. Is the feedback useful to me? Did they actually tell me something about myself that I can or should change?
  3. Did they provide real examples?
  4. Did the feedback include suggested actions I could take?

If the answer was YES to all four, then it was great feedback and gets four stars (★★★★), if it was only two, then the feedback was alright, but not worth dwelling on.

This process helps to defuse the defensive energy that you are overcome with and allows you to step back and see the feedback in a more matter of fact manner. It also reminds you of why feedback is important in the first place – to help you, not them.

Remember, you aren’t trying to please everyone or seek their approval, certainly not of the people who aren’t there to be supportive. The end result of good feedback is a game plan: “What am I going to do about this?”

The next time you get feedback that makes you tense up, cringe or even want to cry…stop, take a deep breath and “C.T.F.” – critique the feedback.