When you are in leadership, you are going to receive critical feedback either from your team, a client, or even your manager.

How you receive that feedback will be crucial to your path as a leader and the respect you earn from others.

There used to be an expectation that you needed to receive feedback dispassionately (AKA: with stoic resting jerk face). Emotional responses were a detriment to your career and used to paint a picture of irrationalism, reactivity, and immaturity. As women in leadership have taken a more prominent role, leadership styles have shifted and the ability to marry intellect with compassion has become the new standard.

The truth is that people (on average) are compassionate, emotional beings – and that is a strength when you use it constructively. It's crucial for you to understand who you are, how you respond to feedback, and why you respond the way you do. Once you have that understanding, you can develop a process for positively addressing criticism and using it to drive your organization forward.

Step 1 - Ask for time

If the feedback has sparked some intensity within you, you are likely best to ask for some time to consider the feedback and set a time to sit down and discuss. It is easy to feel like you have to address everything on the spot, but the truth is that you don't.

At times the person with the feedback can feel the need for immediacy because they have been thinking about it for a while, and now they are ready to give the feedback to you and have you respond immediately.

While there will always be a situation where you do have to respond on the spot, know that responding to this game of hot potato is like hitting REPLY ALL to an email when you're mad. When words are spoken, they can't be taken back.

Think of this as a cooling-off period. You can call it what it is. Saying something like, "NAME, it seems like this is important for you, and it is bothering you. I want to address your feedback in a positive way for the betterment of all, but it seems like we could use a brief cooling-off period to do so. If we take this time, I can consider your feedback, and both of us can come to the table with solutions. Could we meet about this on DAY and TIME?"

Step 2 – Allow the emotion

Everyone reacts in some way to feedback. Maybe you feel defensive. Perhaps you feel angry, or it may touch that place where you don't feel worthy and it brings up feelings of doubt. Think back to the last time you received feedback that felt critical. What was the first thing you felt? Can you make space for that feeling without having to react from it right away?

Brene Brown has great insight to help you allow your emotions without being ruled by them, especially when it comes to shame. Her book, Daring Greatly, was life-changing for me and how I managed my feelings. I can be very stoic on the outside — because I am going off like a powder keg on the inside. When I grew up, I learned not to show my emotion because it was used against me. That was a defensive and subconscious coping mechanism that helped me in my childhood, but hindered me in my adult life, especially when it came to being the leader I needed to be in my business.

The concept that stuck with me from Daring Greatly was allowing yourself to feel the emotion and then let it pass. While I don't dig into the why of the emotion for long periods of time, I do ask myself why I am feeling this way. Is it the comment, the person it's coming from, is it how I am feeling about myself, or is it something in my past that is showing up at that moment?

The answer to that question is essential because it helps me understand what to do next. If the emotion is coming from me, then that is something I need to address and separate from the issue at hand. If the feeling is related to the situation, then I can manage that as well.

Step 3 – Assume everyone is coming from a good place

Let's face it, in our age of digital and social technologies, the ability to communicate effectively and positively is working its way out of our lexicon. Even if I don't agree with the feedback or how it was delivered, I go back to the fact that the person is good.

If you can assume that they are a good person, coming from a good place, then you can have compassion with them and the situation. The person has the right to feel and perceive what they feel and perceive.

Try putting yourself in their shoes. What created the reaction for them? What is the story they may be telling themselves about the situation? What is it that they desire to come out of the situation?

Remember that whatever the other person is thinking or feeling, it is real to them. You can honor that, even if you disagree or see things differently.

Considering all these questions may make you feel like you need to be a sleuth or a psychiatrist, but it's essential to finding a resolution. Only when you understand how the other person is feeling about a situation can you create real solutions.

Step 4 – Plan acceptable resolutions

Once you have an understanding of how everyone is feeling about the situation, it's time to craft a few acceptable resolutions or recommendations to bring to the table.

When you know what you can agree to in the beginning, you can allow the other person to present first. There is ownership that happens when people can bring up feedback and impact the solution. If you disagree with the proposed solutions, you can still negotiate a win-win. Often, because you've done your homework and can see the other person's perspective, you can agree and move on.

Also, to keep yourself on track, plan out an agenda for the conversation. In cases where you are receiving and resolving feedback, it can be easy to let a conversation snowball into an entirely different discussion; things just get out of hand. If this happens in the conversation, feel free to add the new feedback to the parking lot until you have resolved the original feedback.

Step 5 – Keep your word and invite positive feedback

Keep your word on any next steps you agree on as part of the solution and provide updates to the other person when things delay or change in scope. Your team wants to be heard, and your ability to listen and then take affirmative action builds their respect for you, even if they are not in agreement.

The key to being effective as a woman in leadership is not to shun emotions, but use them in positive ways to treat people like people and have authentic and honest communication around points of conflict. In doing so, you knit together your team in a way that makes them feel valued and encourages them to trust you as their leader.


Leslie Hassler