7 Ways Negative Feedback Can Build Mental Toughness

November 22nd, 2015 by LaRae Quy

One of my more humbling, and humiliating, experiences occurred when our Firearms Instructor gave instructions during one of our annual night shoots for an arrest scenario where I would be the one to make the arrest. I had my gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Tucked into my belt were the handcuffs.

7 Ways Negative Feedback Can Build Mental Toughness

All went well until I went to handcuff the prisoner. My night vision is not so great so I replaced my weapon in the holster as I grappled for the handcuffs—while holding the flashlight in my other hand.

In the dark, I didn’t realize I hadn’t properly holstered my weapon, which fell onto the pavement with a clatter. The guy I was trying to arrest (another FBI agent) tried not to laugh as I fumbled in the dark to snap open the handcuffs. In the end, I put the flashlight on the ground next to where my weapon had landed and just felt my way around my prisoner’s wrists.

Without looking at me or saying a word, my Firearms Instructor picked up my weapon and handed it to me as I tried to pretend all had gone well.

But in his critique in front of the entire group, he let everyone know it had not gone well. At all. His negative feedback felt like barbed wire being pulled across my face.

I felt about one inch tall when I left the firing range later than night. It was one of those experiences that left me wondering if I had simply chosen the wrong career.

But I needed to toughen up and become more resilient if I wanted to learn how to filter junk feedback from good information in order to improve.

Here are 7 ways negative feedback can help you build mental toughness:

1. Increases Self-Awareness

If you are able to accept feedback without getting angry or defensive, you probably have a great deal of self-awareness.

If you think you never make mistakes, you are a narcissist—either that or stupid. But if you are humble and self-aware, you recognize that you need feedback to continue climbing the ladder of success. You understand that there is always something you can do to be better.

2. Fuels Personal Growth

Great athletes spend hours studying films of their performance. They are great because they are good at accepting all kinds of feedback, and then use it to fuel their personal growth. Low-performers tend to take feedback personally or feel they are above taking criticism seriously.

High-performers are better at accepting feedback because they know it is essential for growth.

3. Paves The Way For Success

Research by Leadership IQ shows that people who are good at managing negative feedback tend to be more successful than those who cannot. The study further indicates that of those who fail, 26% do so because they are unwilling to accept feedback.

4. Stretches Performance

In another study, it was found that people who ask for feedback are the most effective leaders. According to Joseph Folkman, leaders who are in the top 10% are those who are willing to ask for feedback—both positive and negative.

This study suggests that the worse you are as a leader, the less likely you are willing to ask for feedback because you’re afraid you will hear the truth!

5. Eliminates Personalization

The better you are at accepting negative feedback, the less likely you will view it as an indictment of who you are as a person.

Feedback can be viewed as one more piece of data to analyze, digest, reject, or accept as information to make a better decision. Taking it as a piece of data with which to make future decisions will allow you de-personalize it.

6. Aids in Self-Improvement

Closely related to self-awareness, negative feedback can be valuable data for self-improvement. Be the sort of person who believes there is always a better way to do things.

I tend to say, “Let’s find ways to make the best, even better.”

No one piece of feedback means the end of the world. If, however, you begin to see repeated comments in the same area, you may need to take a closer look at what has been clearly identified as an issue—especially if you don’t recognize it in yourself.

7. Trains You To Pay Attention To The Facts

Look for what is factual in the feedback. For example, your boss criticizes your presentation in a harsh manner. E.g. “It had typos, incomplete transitions, and it rambled! From now on, run everything past my personal assistant first to see if you get a passing grade!”

Your boss could have been gentler in her feedback—yes, but what are you going to do? Cry like a baby? Or, realize that there was more than a grain of truth in everything she said. You really do need to work on spelling and punctuation and you don’t use transitions well.

Do not focus on the anger and frustration of your boss; rather, focus on the errors you made and how you can avoid them in the future.

How have you learned to embrace negative feedback?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

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4 Responses to “7 Ways Negative Feedback Can Build Mental Toughness”

  1. Love how you take the negative feedback and it fuels your performance and future success.

    Great tips to do that. Fantastic.

  2. This is so true LaRae!

    At one time, I interviewed a young woman that looked so professional and was referred by another employee. As I asked interview questions she was sharp and polished and I was sure I would hire her.

    Then I asked what her weaknesses were.
    She said she didn’t have any.
    I rephrased the question and again she said she didn’t have any.
    Try #3 – She said she used to be afraid to speak publically but she worked on that and was no longer afraid. And once again said she didn’t have any.

    It was clear that she would have a difficult time receiving feedback, and that was the end of the interview.

    On a personal note – I know that there have been times I’ve struggled to receive feedback. As Terri says much of that has to do with the person that delivers the communication, my trust level with them, and how their intention is perceived. But I also know that some of the most challenging feedback – has caused tremendous growth and as a result I usually seek it.

  3. Awesome Study revealed that careers progressed through these seven main phases of development, Self-Awareness, Personal Growth and a variety of factors, individuals, and organizations influenced this process, either directly or indirectly.

  4. Fantastic article, LaRae! Receiving feedback can be overwhelming especially if we don’t have a trusting relationship with the person giving it. On the other hand, honest feedback from someone we respect and trust is critical to our success.

    Love all your points, especially #3- Paves The Way For Success. Keep your inspiring stories coming!

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