Ever have a tough conversation with your manager? Ever get feedback from a boss or mentor that really stung? Or maybe a customer meeting that felt like it was going south right off the bat? I know these aren’t feelings you probably want to relive any time soon, but stay with me here for a minute.
How did that meeting go? If you’re anything like me – and most of us in the working world, for that matter – it probably felt pretty brutal. Maybe you thought you were just going to be sitting down to hear some simple constructive notes about how well you were doing around the office and where you could make some improvements. Or, maybe you thought it was going to be a simple check-in call with a supplier, nothing complicated. And, before you knew it, it just felt like you’re getting smacked over the head with a 2×4. No one likes taking these kinds of beatings, especially when they’re from professional mentors and people who you trust and respect.
When you’re on the receiving end of one of those beatings, you can start to feel defensive. Maybe you bite your tongue and grit your teeth through it, but odds are at least once, when you’re in the moment, you leaned into that ‘fight or flight’ response: you either totally retreated from the criticism and stopped listening altogether, or you did the opposite and felt like you needed to fight back. “No no, you’re not getting it, let me tell you why you’re wrong.”
That’s a perfectly natural reaction to have. It’s also not one that is going to do you any favors. Look no further than Elon Musk, who took some tough questions from shareholders at an earnings call in May and responded to the situation by dismissing their questions, attacking them, ignoring them, and slighting them as boring. It was an embarrassing performance that Musk had to backtrack from and apologize for anyway.
Just sit and listen
That moment when you feel that fight or flight response start creeping in, that’s your magic moment to take the beating you’re being given and turn it into something constructive. Don’t fight back against the criticism, don’t withdraw from it. Instead, just sit and listen. Absorb it. Internalize it. Take notes.
And then sleep on it
Don’t take any immediate action. Even if you’re just sitting silent through your, let’s say, “professional beating,” once it’s over, you’re still going to feel very heated and emotional about it. Not just in the negative, “How dare they” sense, either. If whomever is dishing out that feedback – whether it’s a mentor or boss in the office, or a customer or supplier you’re talking with over the phone – gives you 10 action items to put on your list of next steps, you might feel so wound up by it that you could be compelled to try to tackle all 10 ASAP. That’s just as bad as shutting down or lashing out. You’ll be tripping over yourself to do all 10 that you won’t even get one done. So, instead, give it some time to marinate.
Don’t be reactionary
You want to sit with the feedback for a day or two, process it.
Detach yourself from the emotions of the meeting to internalize the lessons of what that meeting was all about. And, after letting it sit, you’ll come back the next day clear-eyed about not just why you need to take action X, Y and Z for your personal growth, but also about how and when to go about doing that.
You’re either growing or you’re dying
This is one of my favorite quotes, from the former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. And, it cuts to the core of both our professional and personal lives: there’s no sitting still. If you linger, just trying to preserve what’s working so far without taking chances to grow, then you’re not going anywhere.
So, let’s be clear about this: comfort is the enemy of growth. Being comfortable means you’re stagnating, it means you’re wasting opportunities coming your way to change and expand your horizons and do something new, be something new.
That’s where those “beatings” come from, and why they’re so handy. Because if you’re not always learning on your own, then the best – and maybe only – way you can learn is to get that harsh feedback from others. And, I don’t mean from internet trolls, of course, but from people you trust and respect and whose opinions you value.
No one likes taking heat at work, even well-meaning heat, because they have room to improve. But, it’s important to remember that that feeling of discomfort is just temporary; the impact of taking that feedback to heart and using it to grow is lifelong.
Growth is not supposed to feel comfortable
The sooner we can accept that comfort is the enemy of growth, the sooner we can ensure we’re not being sidetracked by these fleeting feelings of discomfort and, instead, putting our energy into meaningful change and continuing to always move forward.