Sarah thought she had a great working relationship with her boss, Nina. Sarah had always received positive feedback and got along well with Nina. So when it was time for Sarah to get promoted, she was shocked when Nina told her she wasn’t ready as Sarah lacked confidence and gravitas for the senior role. Sarah felt completely blindsided and betrayed. After all, she looked at Nina as a mentor and confidante. Sarah contemplated looking for another job.
How many times in our professional and personal lives have we received feedback from people only to feel hurt, dismayed and rejected? It’s easy to feel resentful, but when we peel back the layers, we realize perhaps there is a nugget of truth that we are just not ready to accept. It takes self-awareness and emotional regulation, but learning to handle such situations is an important skill for our growth and development.
Here are five effective ways to respond and reflect on hurtful conversations to minimize anger and sadness.
Look for the positive
In the moment, when someone says something hurtful, take a deep breath and realize that it’s perfectly normal to feel all the feelings but that feedback is not a personal attack. Learn to separate your emotions to focus on what the person is saying. Very often feedback may not be about you as a person, rather the way you made someone feel. For instance, your good friend may appear frustrated and tell you that you never listen to her and are always distracted. Instead of getting defensive and mad at her, realize that perhaps she’s trying to tell you something that you didn’t realize about yourself. Ask yourself how can I become a better listener because I want my friend to know I care about her?
Ask for clarification
Whenever we feel like we’re being attacked if someone criticizes us, it’s easy to get defensive. Instead, what if we sought to better understand what the person is trying to say. Tell them, “I can understand you’re angry (or frustrated) but would you provide more clarification so I can learn from this?” Very often, clarifying information can ensure you’re correctly perceiving the feedback and can lead to a more productive dialogue.
Step away and revisit
Despite our best efforts to stay calm, there may be times where our emotions will want to get the better of us. Whether it’s in a heated meeting with co-workers or an argument with your spouse, realize that it’s OK to step away from the situation rather than react in the moment. Excuse yourself to grab a glass of water or go to the restroom. Take a few deep breaths, slowly count to 10, and collect your thoughts. Stepping away from a hurtful situation can help calm your nerves and take you out of the “flight or fight” mode that your brain often pushes you into. This buys you time to think through the situation with clarity, and you may just find that it’s not worth reacting to what happened.
Talk to someone you trust: Sometimes, it helps to get a different perspective on the situation. Hearing the feedback framed differently from someone whose opinions you respect may help you reflect on the situation more objectively. You may find yourself walking in the other person’s shoes or realize that the person who hurt you may have their own hidden agenda. Either way, you’ll have a more balanced view and can act as needed. Friends and mentors can be such great resources to get a fresh perspective.
Let it go
Lastly, there may be situations where you simply must let it go. Whether you win or lose the argument or decide to stay friends or not with someone, find a way to let go of the hurt, resentment, and anger. Focus on what matters or what’s important – your relationships, the volunteer work you do, kids, etc. The best thing you can do after a hurtful situation is to learn from it and move on.
So coming back to Sarah, she decided to schedule time with Nina to ask for more feedback and figure out ways to work on the feedback she received. Nina apologized and admitted she should’ve shared the feedback earlier but felt challenged given their strong working relationship. Sarah understood where Nina was coming from. They agreed to revisit the promotion in 6 months after creating a strong performance plan for Sarah.
At the end of the day, you can’t always avoid tough feedback or hurtful situations, but how you deal with it and how much mind space you devote to it are completely in your hands.